“But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40, ESV).
Do these words haunt you? They do me. Like Martha I have given my life to serve the Lord. My life is filled with acts of service that I do for Christ. I’m sure that you too are intentional about serving God by caring for others, teaching the Bible, or helping the poor and needy in some way.
Let’s not be too hard on Martha. What a friend she was to Jesus! Her home was his refuge. Her cooking was his favorite. He so appreciated her loving ministry of hospitality to him, but sometimes her ministry for him got in the way of her relationship with him.
That was the case on the day that Luke tells us about. Martha was working hard and fast in the kitchen to prepare the meal. Meanwhile, her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, adoring him and hanging on his every word.
Martha complained to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But Jesus 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 10:41-42, ESV).
Serving God can be the Enemy of Intimacy with God
What happened to Martha? She got side-tracked from what was most important. “Service for God is the greatest enemy of intimacy with God,” Dallas Willard explains. When we serve God we are vulnerable to becoming distracted from his loving presence with us. This will lead to becoming anxious and troubled, perhaps also to self-pity and resentment, as it did for Martha.
Serving God without enjoying him eventually leads to burnout. This happens to pastors every day in America. 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month and the number one cause is burnout. The Best Way to Support your Pastor is to pray for him or her and then drop an encouraging note.
It’s not just pastors who are vulnerable to burnout. All of us who serve the Lord as caregivers, Bible study leaders, and volunteers need to learn how to prevent burnout. Much to the surprise of Bible students it is Martha who shows us how to prevent burnout.
The Key to Prevent Burnout
Martha didn’t burn out! What an inspiration she is for me and our ministry of Soul Shepherding for those who lead and care for others in Jesus’ name. The Bible tells the story that after Martha’s day of frustrated kitchen service she continued to offer hospitality for Jesus and she did so with great loving-kindess and attentiveness to her Lord, in the gentle spirit that Mary demonstrated by sitting at Jesus’ feet (John 12:1).
How did Martha prevent burnout? What enabled her to serve Jesus with joy? A friend of mine says it’s because she became “Mary-nated!” She followed Mary’s example and learned to be marinated in the words and presence of Christ. Like meat marinating in a special sauce she learned to soak her soul in God’s love. Spiritually speaking, she learned to bring Jesus into the kitchen with her.
What a joy it is to do our work (even if it’s secular or mundane work!) in a relational way, joining with Jesus in his work right now. That’s the secret of joyful work! Remember Jesus said, “Abide in me and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5, paraphrase). Always Immanuel is in our midst and we can learn to behold him in our heart, praising him and relying on him as we do what we’re doing.
Let’s not be “distracted with much serving.” Let’s be Mary-nated! Let’s Abide in Prayer. When we do we’ll be free of the troubles that gripped Martha in the kitchen — free of anxiety, free of anger, free of self-pity, and God will help us in our ministries to overcome the stress overload and discouragement that can lead to burnout (see “Pastor Stress Statistics.”)
Joy in Jesus!