"Ministry is it's own worst enemy. It is not destroyed by the big, bad wolf of the world. It destroys itself."
Those words open chapter nine of John Piper's book, "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals." I find them piercingly convicting and insightful. Even more so this morning after I read Luke 10.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:38-42 ESV)
Martha here is ministering in a very practical way. And she is not ministering to just anyone. She is ministering to Jesus Himself. What is wrong with that? I don't think you can find anything "wrong" with it, even in this passage. She is hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2) and working diligently at her home to serve her guests (Proverbs 31, Titus 2). Far from being sinful, her actions, in and of themselves, are commendable. No where does Jesus say to Martha that it is a poor thing to serve (in fact, I'm sure He was appreciative). Nor does Luke, the author of this Gospel, ever say anything hinting at that. No, Martha's error was not an obvious one. Luke says she was "distracted with much serving."
How often am I distracted with much serving? It is a good thing to serve others. It is good to sacrifice. But how easy is it for us to get so busy with activities and serving that we neglect the One whom we are to render our bodies to as a living sacrifice? How often are we more focused on doing the work of the ministry than we are on simply being children of God? How often do we become distracted in doing, that we neglect an opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus?
These are hard questions for me to ask myself. As my life sits right now, I work my normal job, am taking care of a business, have a wife and will soon have a child, and on top of that is that busyness of ministry. And I always seem to cram it all in. Furthermore, I can usually find time to cram in one more thing if asked to. But, how often all this activity comes at the expense of what matters? How often does running around "doing things for Jesus" become a distraction of much serving? Too often, I fear. I read of saints of old, men who loved God and knew Him at a level I only dream to at this point. What are the common denominators in their lives? Assiduous, consistent, disciplined study of and meditation on the Scriptures; and a fervent commitment to prayer. And these things consumed much of their time. Men like Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Robert Murray McCheyne, John Wesley, John Bunyan, John Owen. They committed themselves to at least one or two hours of Bible reading and prayer daily. How often do we try and skirt by on one or two minutes?
It is a shameful thing. But shame is not a strong motivator. No, the far more pressing problem is that we, because of our lack of zeal for our Lord and His Word, fail to see the face of God. And who is missing out in this circumstance? It is not God. He does not need us. He does not need our prayers, our thoughts, our minds, nor our actions. On the contrary, He is the one who upholds all and gives to all life and breath and everything (Acts 17). But because of this fact-that He is the upholder of all, and the One who gives us the desire and ability to serve Him (Philippians 2)-when we neglect our spiritual well being, we are the ones who miss out. And it is no paltry thing we miss our on. We miss seeing the face of God, revealed to us in whatever minute way that we are capable of comprehending. We will never see it without looking for it.
And this takes time. It takes effort. Our world is full of distractions. Sinful ones, such as lust, and gluttony, and gossip, and hatred. These will pull us away from God. Then there are things that are simply foolish when taken out of proportion and that consume our time and passions, such as Facebook, and Twitter, and ESPN, and Pinterest. And then, perhaps most dangerous of all, are the good things, things that will distract us with much serving. Christian ministry, helping the poor, Bible studies, work, running the kids around, etc. These things are more dangerous, I believe, because of this fact-many of them do deserve our time and energy. The problem is when they become the focus of all our time and energy, to the neglect of that which is of first importance.
And so I leave you with this question. Are you distracted with much serving, or are you sitting at Jesus' feet?