“She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word.” – Luke 10:39 (NKJV)
One day, Jesus entered the village of Bethany and entered the home of his friends, two sisters named Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38). Martha prepared the meal, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet (10:39-40). Then Martha, “distracted with much serving,” asked Jesus to make her sister help her (10:40). Jesus gently rebuked Martha, saying that “one thing is needed” (10:42). Mary chose it, and it won’t “be taken away from her” (10:42).
Brother Lawrence “practiced the presence of God” in the kitchen. J. Hudson Taylor felt his presence while writing letters and paying bills. Others have sensed God in the midst of ministry. So are all working Christians “worried and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41)? No. They must still live in the world. Someone has to cook meals, clean house, rear children, and make money. People can’t attend church, Bible studies, and prayer meetings 24/7. So how did Mary choose “that good part” (10:42)?
We don’t know how the two sisters lived when Jesus wasn’t present. Maybe Mary helped prepare and serve meals. Maybe she was just as busy as Martha at keeping house. But when Jesus entered their home, Mary decided that meals were less important than their guest. So she “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word” (Luke 10:39). Martha could have done the same thing. The meal could have waited a little longer that day. But she chose to work. By not abiding in Jesus’ presence and listening to his words, Martha neglected a great treasure.
How many Christians are just like Martha? When given the choice between abiding in Jesus’ presence – through worship, Bible study, and prayer – and working for him, too many of us choose work. We love to create evangelism projects and write Christian books, songs, and screenplays. Yet we neglect the words and worship of God. The Bible and church are “old hat” and we want to do something else. We don’t know that we’re neglecting a great treasure.
We’ve been “created in Christ Jesus” to do “good works” (Ephesians 2:10). He has given us a divine commission to “preach the gospel” and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15). Therefore, Christian evangelism and service are vital ministries. However, what we do for Jesus should never replace his presence, the “one thing” that eternally matters (Luke 10:42). For we are also called to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).
Christian books and films should never replace the Word of God in our conversations or online footprint either. If we talk about the latest Christian film in theaters, the latest Christian book in stores, or the latest Christian song on iTunes more than the Bible, Sunday worship, and answered prayer, then we need to check our hearts. A Martha spirit is replacing that of Mary.
Contrary to what some Christians believe, we won’t work in heaven. Eternity will consist of rest (Psalm 95:11, Hebrews 4:9-11, Revelation 14:13). We’ll worship Jesus, serve him at his throne, and follow him wherever he goes (7:9-10, 15-17; 14:4, 15:2-4, 22:3). If we don’t cherish God’s presence through worship, Bible study, and prayer here and now, then what will we do with ourselves in heaven? Some work-loving Christians might find it a strange place.
I’m sure that David doesn’t consider heaven strange. He reigned as king over ancient Israel for forty years, yet David envied the Levites who served God in the tabernacle day and night. Like Mary, the psalmist king said he desired and sought “one thing” of God: “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Some Christians are relieved that they don’t have to serve God all day and night the way Levites did. Yet David wanted to be one of them. He treasured the presence of God, and his Word, more than the glory and duties of a king. What does this say about us today?
Only in the presence of Jesus can we be transformed into his image and receive divine strength to do good works (2 Corinthians 3:18). So let us give him first place in our lives.
 All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.