One of my quirky habits is my tendency to take note of car number plates, and especially personalized number plates. Call me a weirdo, but I find it fascinating to see the combination of letters and numbers people come up with on their number plates. After I dropped my daughter off at pre-school, I found myself behind a car with the number plate, “MRS-247”. That’s spot-on for Mother’s Day. There’s no let up with being a mum, it’s a 24/7 job.
Motherhood and parenting makes all sorts of demands at all times. Babies cry, nappies leak, dishes pile up, lunchboxes need filling, kids act up, siblings fight. And then there’s the never-ending drop offs and pick-ups, friend issues, tantrums, puberty, dating, marriage, jobs—and then just when you think they’re off your hands, the kids move back home, or you get called in for babysitting!
In Luke 10, we find the closest thing Jesus gave to a sermon on busyness. We find two women in this story, sisters, one called Martha, the other Mary. Jesus drops into Martha’s home, which prompted her natural response—I’ll prepare food, offer him a drink, and ensure he’s welcome. In Middle Eastern culture back then and in Asian culture too, to not welcome a guest and provide your very best food and drink was and is a big ‘no no’. That’s what makes Mary’s response so counter cultural. She just plonks herself down and hangs off every word that comes from Jesus’ mouth.
Here we have two sisters and two entirely different responses to Jesus coming over—serving and busyness, or sitting and learning. And Jesus’ verdict is this: Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her (v. 38).
We all know that Mary is supposed to be our example here, but did you find yourself siding with Martha? It’s not as if Martha was glued to her phone, watching kittens break dance on Youtube! Someone has to stack the chairs and set the table, preheat the oven and do the dishes.
One of the things I love my about my own mum is the fact that she’s always up for a chat, especially about the serious stuff in life. But we have a family with three young kids and another on the way, so I also appreciate the Martha in her. When my mum comes over to my house, after she’s said hello to everyone, maybe had something to drink, she can’t sit still. It’s only a matter of time before she’s sniffing around for housework to do, dishes to clean, laundry to fold, or clothes to iron. In fact, this shirt I’m wearing today was ironed by her! Now Teresa’s not watching Bachelor in Paradise while all this is happening! She’s just got her hands full doing other stuff.
But all of us can sympathize with Martha, for there is always something else that needs doing. Indeed, in our day and age, being busy has become a badge of honour. It shows that we’re needed and important.
Martha thinks her sister’s a bludger. She’s tried giving her eye-rolls, sighs, hands on hips, the passive aggressive comments. Nothing has got Mary up from Jesus’ feet to help her. All that’s left for Martha to do is to co-opt Jesus, so that Jesus can give her a piece of his mind. Verse 40, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (NIV). And Jesus’ response is in verse 41. Luke 10:41 “Martha, Martha”.
Jesus is doing exactly the opposite of what Martha wanted. Jesus does care for Martha. He’s got a soft spot for her entire family. But Martha is worried and upset about many things. And Jesus knows her and us better than we know ourselves. He can tell that Martha’s all worked up, fussing and fretting about everything that needs doing. And you and I battle with this, too. Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
Martha was busy multi-tasking, but Mary was uni-tasking. Mary’s one task was to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him. Martha’s mistake was to let the urgent crowd out the important and let the good become the enemy of the best. Martha did not put first things first. And you and I make that same mistake. Our current generation is distracted more than any other. Think of our smart phones and all those little icons vying for our attention. Netflix is saying, “Watch me”, podcasts are calling, “Listen to me”, and Facebook is saying “Check me”.
There was an American survey done of 8,000 Christians. 70% of them said they checked email or social media before they gave themselves to the disciplines of prayer and bible reading.
Friends, it’s time for us to sit at the feet of Jesus.
I was thrilled to hear about the Growth Group that meets here on Tuesday mornings, full of mums with newborn babies, challenging each other to think about how they can use their screen time. They were thinking about how they can use their 2am time as they settle their children for Jesus.
Teresa and I are a bit slow on the uptake, but this week we’ve become fans of the Bible app ‘Youversion’. Let me commend it to you. It allows you to read, listen, and watch the Bible, plus you can use it to encourage one another in Bible reading.
You can be a pastor, paid to preach and read the Bible, and still be distracted! So my sermon preparation this week involved a dilemma: do I jump straight into ‘work mode’ and keep chipping away at this talk, or do I sit down and do business with God on my own first?
Jesus cuts through all our distractions, stresses, and worries. Instead of the endless to-do lists, Jesus says in verse 42 that only one thing is need, and Mary has chosen it. Mary opted for what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
No matter who you are or where you live, the best thing for your soul is to be fed by Jesus. He wants us to put that ahead of our work, family responsibilities, our hobbies and pleasures, and social lives.
To stop and listen to Jesus is even more important than our church responsibilities. So for a good number of ministry roles in our church, before someone can start that ministry they need to be part of a small group. We need to be fed before we feed others. Those who serve on Sunday kids and youth programs also have a service they sit in, as well as the one they serve in.
Jesus wants devoted disciples not distracted ones. He doesn’t want us busy running around doing stuff, even if that stuff is for him. We need to be nurtured and fed by him. So let’s give Jesus our devotion not our distraction.
Feeding your soul is always the best thing we can do.
Jesus doesn’t say how long to sit at his feet. That’s for you to figure out. Some of us might start with five minutes a day. A few unhurried minutes are better than a distracted hour. Consistency is the name of the game--that’s better than big bursts here and there.
Let me tell you about my grandmother who died about 10 years ago. I have distinct memories of walking downstairs early in the morning and seeing her praying, reading her Bible, and sometimes singing a song. Of course, there were other days when I slept in, and I’d wake up later to see her dusting the furniture. I can’t wait till we’re reunited again in heaven.
Now my wife Teresa will share with you from one mum to another.
Motherhood began for me about nine and a half years ago. My first significant memory as a mum was waiting to leave hospital and bursting into tears, because I was so deeply fearful of this sleeping bundle next to me. I’d prepared myself for pregnancy and the birth, but I didn’t having a manual for this next, crucial part. I felt terror because I was not sure what was needed or best, or how to make the most of my days. What should I do at each moment? Feed, play, do tummy time? When they are sleeping, do I shower, nap, read my bible, have a cuppa, or exercise? (Cleaning the house was never my priority!)
My children are at a different stage now. Do I allow them too much TV? Do I give them opportunities to play sport, or music, or to excel academically? What about having them learn a foreign language? Am I disciplining them enough? Do I give them enough independence? Am I multi-tasking too much?
Often I feel like a failure. I feel that the days are wasted and my efforts are futile. I feel that the glossy version of who I want to be is unreachable. Right now, I am “just a full time mum” and yet I feel like I hardly get anything of value done. On my worst days, I feel I have ruined my children and destined them to a lifetime of psychological trauma and disadvantage because I haven’t fed them organic, read enough to them, prayed with them, or kept my cool. Life is busy, and it is easy to fill our time with activities. I am a “do-er”, someone who willingly puts their hand up to help, serve, give, volunteer.
Mother’s Day reminds me that nine and a half years ago, my role in life changed forever. I became a mother, and that is something I will always be, even when my kids are long gone out of my home. I may even be a grandmother one day, who takes on a different blessing and burden. But while that is one facet of life, this bible passage points me to the fact that this is not who I truly am, not entirely. I am someone who is created in the image of God, and by God’s grace, someone who has been adopted into God’s family.
Sisters, it is so easy to be distracted by the good. As mother, friend, daughter, sister, worker, the to-do list is never-ending, and there is always someone or something that needs our attention and energy. And perhaps after that, we are distracted by our lack of energy, television, or the internet.
I struggle greatly to sit by Jesus feet. It is easier and it feels more productive to be organising something, helping someone with their homework, tidying something, or meeting someone. There seems little time in the day to sit. While it was a struggle when I first encountered motherhood to just sit and listen to Jesus, to be honest it has always been a struggle. It has always been hard just to stop and listen to Jesus—whether it was during my work life, while I was studying, or even now when I have the house to myself a couple of days a week. For example, even preparing for this talk, I was fluctuating between reading the Bible and reflecting on it and reorganizing my pantry. I alternate between trying to do it all, climbing the impossible mountain of tasks, and then giving up and hiding in the pantry and eating chocolate salvaged from my kids’ party bags while watching Youtube videos about life hacks.
I want to achieve, I desire recognition. I am task-focused, wanting to be busy rather than just be a child of God and sitting with him. I want pleasure, comfort, and reward rather than inconvenience or discomfort.
But God’s word shines the spotlight on who I truly am—not “just a mum”, or a “working mum,” or a “studying mum”, but just a child of God, plain and simple.
What do I need this Mother’s Day? New PJs, a dressing gown, food, flowers, sleep, coffee, a massage, me time, kids with their vouchers to do chores or treats without nagging? More important than all that, I need to remember that my identity and my true need is like Martha, to sit at Jesus’ feet. The urgent often consumes the important, so I need to be reminded to choose wisely, to choose what is needed. I need to be reminded to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8-9).
Some of you are mums, and some of you may be mums in the future. You will at least know a mother, even if it’s just your own. Be thankful for them and for all they do! But remember, and remind them, of what is truly needed: relationship and time with God. Perhaps you can free them up to “indulge” in what is needed, if they struggle.
Mothers, we can keep egging each other on, not just with tips on how to manage a kids tantrum or juggle work life with home duties, but how to include solid times with our Lord and God? We can remember to point others in our conversations to something more valuable than our children and households, and persevere with the practice of sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen to him. Let’s take in what he teaches us, just like our kids sit and listen to the bedtime stories that we read to them. As we keep our eyes fixed on our Lord Jesus, and on the gospel, it helps us to remember we aren’t rewarded for what we can achieve ourselves, or through our children. Our hope isn’t in moving into that next stage—whether it’s a child who sleeps through the night, a kid who is toilet trained, or a kid who starts school—but our hope is in Jesus.
I don’t think that Martha was wrong. I think she was just confused about what mattered more. Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better, and so should we. Do we want to hear, “Mum, you’re always on your phone”, or “Mum, you’re always reading your bible and praying”? I think we need to model to our children that our greatest priority isn’t success or happiness or perfection—whether ours or theirs—but listening to Jesus.
Dan remembers the times when we had a newborn and I would a Psalm each day while I breastfed. I barely remember it but treasure that I was sustained by God’s word during the “fog” of early motherhood, and encouraged to keep my eyes on Jesus.
I love technology, not just because we can have Facebook messenger chats with other mums who are up feeding their baby at 2am, but because we can share resources with one another: podcasts, articles, devotionals, and audio bibles.
I remember there were a few years where I felt like I hadn’t head a single sermon and that nothing would stick in my head when I read the Bible. I often retreated during sermon time to play with my kid somewhere less disturbing. To sing with my church family for 10 minutes each Sunday was my sermon. To enjoy and praise God and remember his goodness was sustaining. I read the book of Philippians once for over 6 months, not because I was looking up commentaries and solidly studying the book, but because I kept falling asleep, and needed to re-read the verses multiple times. But it was familiar enough for me to be reminded of some key truths that I needed to hold on to.
So friends, life is busy, and there are always urgent and important things to attend to. Our capacity is limited, our wills are weak, our hearts are wandering. Our seasons will change but we will always feel the temptation to be distracted, worried, or anxious as our sister Martha did.
But let’s put our giant to-do list down and sit at Jesus’ feet to really hear him. The relationship he offers us is really too wonderful to miss out on. Let’s keep encouraging one another to taste and see that our Lord really is so, so good. Because that’s what we really need. Please remind me? And I’ll work hard to remind you!
Let me just say a quick word to the men. To the dads and future dads, let’s take the initiative to free our wives up to hear the word. That might mean, on a Sunday, that we settle our child outside in the Garden Room so she can stay to hear the sermon and sing God’s praises. It will mean putting the kids to bed so she can make it to small group during the week. It will mean being proactive and re-arranging the schedule so she can have fellowship with other women.
I know one dad who gives his wife the entire Saturday morning off. He takes the kids, runs them around to sports, so that she can do whatever she wants, like read the Bible on her own, or with friends, or go shopping or go to a café. I know another dad who, during those breastfeeding years, started putting Bibles near the chairs and lounges all over the house. Then whenever his wife sat down, there was always a Bible within reach.
When Jesus’ own mum and brothers tried to see him but couldn’t because of the crowd, Jesus said in Luke 8:21 to those gathered around him, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Then when a woman called out to Jesus about his own mother, Mary, saying that she was blessed, Jesus replied in Luke 11.28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (NIV)
We are blessed when we sit at Jesus feet. In verse 42, Mary chose what was better, and it will never be taken away from her.” You may regret the time wasted on Netflix, but you won’t regret the time you spend in prayer and in the Bible.
Kevin De Young, in his helpful book, “Crazy Busy”, says:
By spending time with the Lord in the Word and prayer, we are likely to gain new perspective on our hassles and headaches. Starting each day with eternity makes our petty problems and long to-do lists seem less significant. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, we will grow more like him—more patient, more loving, more thoughtful. We’ll see that our screens do not satisfy like our Saviour. We’ll see that wisdom was not born yesterday, or thirty-four seconds ago on social media. We’ll learn to keep our complaints to a minimum and our eyes on the cross.
And so if you’re here today and you’re someone who wants to begin sitting at the feet of Jesus, who wants direction not distraction, then why not make this Mother’s Day the day when you choose what is not only better but what is best.