Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
I used to read Scripture, especially passages like this one, as though it was mainly a ‘to-do’ book of rules and regulations if one wanted to know what pleased the Omniscient, Invisible, mostly angry, Being-in-charge. I was, from an early age, taught that God loved me, and that He proved this by sending His Only Son, Jesus, into the world to take my punishment for “sin” upon Himself by dying on the Cross. I embraced this message as a young child. And then, somewhere along the ways, something happened. I began to believe that my behavior was more important to God than who I was. I believed that it was up to me to keep God happy with me so I could avoid the ugly consequences of my bad behaviors. I pictured Him keeping an eye on me to catch me in wrong-doing so He could make sure I never got the impression that I’d ever get away with it. Somewhere inside of me, I believed He loved me and delighted in me and just wanted to enjoy me; but that seemed way too good to be true. So I spent most of the next 20 years or so trying to figure out how best to prove to Him and others that I could one day really belong in His family. I lived mostly in fear of disappointing God and others, and I saw the opinions of those in authority as indicators of how well or how poorly I was doing.
Those who have known me a long time would attest to the fact that I’ve always been a pretty good girl. I sought ways to honor others and to be a good leader, even as a child and teenager. My brief stint of rebellion was very short-lived and, on my worst offense, would probably make most folks still label me as a ‘goodie-goodie.’ I never minded that because I thought my good behavior was all adding up to a goal I desired: to one day feel God’s favor and blessing; to one day put my check marks for verses memorized, gold stars for attendance, and good grades into a file that would finally put me over the top–moving me from the B List I felt I was on to the coveted A List in Heaven’s Kingdom.
And, you know what, I didn’t even realize I was doing any of this at the time.
I just thought I was doing what any grateful and good Christian would do. I was motivated by a deeply imbedded desire to please God. I did love Him, although I was still very fearful of Him. In fact, my life verse from the time I was 15 years old was Philippians 1:20. I had read this verse on January 1, 1990 in Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost For His Highest” which my dad had given me as a Christmas gift the week before. It says,
“My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage.” Philippians 1:20
This verse continues to mean a lot to me, but for a different reason today than back then. For years I read this verse feeling the pressure to perform and try harder and work myself to exhaustion in order to prove to God how much I loved Him. I thought about all the things I was already ashamed of and didn’t want to add any more to that list! The hole I was trying to fill just kept getting bigger though, and no amount of striving could fill it up–not even close. The more aware I was of my shortcomings, the harder I worked to overcome them. The harder I worked to overcome them, the more aware I became of how far I had to go. My focus was on sinning less but not on loving God more. Oh yes, I wanted to love God more, but I always saw my sin as a roadblock to intimacy with God rather than understanding a very key truth:
Intimacy with God was purchased for me through the Person of Jesus Christ who not only died FOR my sin, but became my sin and removed the barrier forever!
2 Cor. 5:21 says it plainly: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
How did I miss this for so long?
When a person embraces Christ’s gift of pardon, God does something pretty incredible that no other world religion even comes close to promising: Yes, He forgives our sin and that’s amazing! But He goes on to do something even greater: God’s very Spirit and Nature becomes one with that person’s spirit and nature, making US the righteousness of God! (See Colossians 1:27)
So, as I have been learning more and more about the new nature I was given at salvation and the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit in me, I have been finding more and more freedom to be who God has already made me to be–rather than trying to become something in order to prove something. It has changed everything! No longer focusing on sinning less, I am free to enjoy my relationship with God loving Him and trusting Him to reveal areas in my life where He desires to prune, remove, strengthen, mature, etc. I used to think I was being humble by berating myself over every little thing I did that I felt didn’t measure up–I now realize how prideful it was to continually focus on me and my abilities to bring about maturity and spiritual growth. There is a freedom to be had for all who have trusted Christ for salvation and that is the freedom of trusting Him for our sanctification (maturity) as well!
Now, with this in mind, take a look again at Mary and Martha’s story. We hear all the time that we need to ‘be’ more like Mary and ‘not be’ like busy, angry Martha. But I see something deeper than that at work here. Notice that Jesus never scolded or belittled Martha. He recognized that her understanding of their relationship was skewed–just like mine was. He knew that Martha loved Him, that wasn’t in question at all. The thing was, though, that she was trying to prove her love by pleasing Him and to please Him, she did what she did best naturally: she served Him. BUT, in all of her serving Him, she wasn’t trusting Him. Hebrews 11:6 teaches that our trust in Him is what pleases Him most. It’s not our “striving to please Him” that proves anything! I can obey God all day long and still never learn to trust Him. But once I begin to trust Him, I will find that I am much more inclined to obey Him.
Mary understood that “one thing” that was vital–and it’s even deeper than spending time reading Scripture and praying–the “one thing” is that Jesus was someone she could fully trust and rely on. She trusted in His love for her enough to know that it was more than okay for her to simply enjoy spending time with Him and listening to Him. She trusted in Him and this was so pleasing to Jesus. Any time our trusting Him is a motivator to anything we do or don’t do, this is what delights our Heavenly Father most. Whenever we are striving to remove the sin barrier ourselves–whether to earn salvation or to earn our sanctification–we miss it by a longshot!
When Christian leaders use their platform to get people busy for God, they often miss the opportunity given to them to teach those readers, listeners, students, congregations, etc who God is and who He has granted them to be. They often resort to guilt, pressure, and manipulation unintentionally in their efforts to see growth and maturity take place in others–and even in themselves. But, what might happen if we began to spend some time learning with one another what it means that we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)? What if those of us in leadership would trust the work of the Holy Spirit more to bring about desired change as we encourage people by teaching them who they are?
Here’s are some examples of a shift in motive:
What if, instead of trying to convince others to obey God to prove they trust Him, we instead taught others how trustworthy God is?
What if, instead of trying to battle some life-dominating sin in order to get it out of the way so I can be close to God, I live out of who He says I already am, and I allow Him in close to deal with that issue Himself as I trust Him with what is absolutely, and even painfully, true about me?
What if I learn to reveal to others who I really am rather than trying to prove my authenticity by working harder to become who my “masks” give an impression that I am? What if I let the masks come off and allow God’s glory to shine through my weakest places?
Someone told me a while back that they knew some things about me that they could use to hurt me. The thing that gives me freedom and removes any fear is that I’ve openly shared my true self and the things of my past to key people in my life who already know the worst about me, and love me more, rather than less. I’ve been able to share on TV, on stage, and in print some things that once held me in shame, but no longer, as I’ve received the GRACE of God who knew the worst about me before I was ever created and wanted me still.
So what motivates you the most? A desire to please God or simply trusting Him?