Two of the greatest challenges that people face today are anxiety and uncertainty. The root causes can be many and varied, perhaps because of illness, dealing with bereavement and loss, loneliness, difficult and complex relationship issues, an unstable job situation, job pressures, growing older, dealing with life events, or perhaps some money problems. There seems to be more uncertainty now than ever before, and I am sure the ongoing political discussions about Brexit aren’t helping. Businesses are having to plan for every eventuality, and people seem to be busier than ever before almost as if we can somehow distract ourselves in our business and busy-ness.
Throughout history people have always had to deal with anxiety and uncertainty; it might not make it any easier for us, but these challenges are nothing new. When I read about people in the Bible, in some way I find it comforting to know that the people then, all those centuries ago, will have faced many of the challenges of life that we face today – even if our contexts and cultures are different. At the end of the day, people are people.
The account of Mary and Martha in our Gospel reading reminds us how the people Jesus lived among and ministered to were basically no different from us, were subject to the same pressures and concerns, and had the same needs and yearnings. Two millennia have not changed the human race. We can all be just like Martha, anxious and troubled about many things and that can often cause us to stumble and not be at our best. It is very easy for us to become so caught up with the doing and lose sight of being – and yet we are created as human beings and not human doings. Our ‘being’ must inform and speak into our ‘doing’.
This makes me think what it is in life that defines us. Do we define ourselves solely by what we do OR do we define ourselves solely by what we are? It is like so many things in life – there needs to be balance. It is like when we are getting ready for Church on a Sunday – there is so much that needs to be done for Church to happen. The seats set out and the hall arranged, the bread and the wine prepared, candles to be lit, robes to be put on, prayers to be prayed and so on. And that’s before the service has even started! Like Martha, we want it to be ‘just right’ don’t we? When we gather together in fellowship though, as nice and important as all of those things are, the most important aspect of that is that we are simply together in our being. We are reminded of that in Hebrews when it says “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) It is in the being together that we can find hope and encouragement. We see that at other times in life too.
It is so easy to be critical of Martha and commend Mary, after all Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened and learned – Mary chose what was best in that moment. We must not lose sight of the fact that Martha’s actions were well meaning and demonstrated care and loyalty to Jesus. Put yourself in Martha’s situation for a moment; she had any homemaker’s joyous problem; she probably had a house full of guests since Jesus rarely travelled alone, and, best of all, she may well have felt some pressure because of her main guest being Jesus, who was widely held by many to be the promised and expected Messiah. It is certainly not an ordinary occasion and she probably felt compelled to pull out all the stops to do what she felt was the right thing.
If that isn’t pressure enough, how on earth do you prepare for someone who could turn water into wine and feed five thousand men besides women and children? How do you provide for someone who taught, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ … for your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided”?
So not surprisingly, Martha had lost that balance and had become ‘antsy’, to the point of telling Jesus off – “…don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” In contrast to the many things on Martha’s mind, Jesus assured her, only “few things are needed—or indeed only one.” Perhaps to her surprise, Jesus sets up her sister as an example to follow. He explains how she “has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is an example of a believer who is choked up with the anxieties and uncertainties of life. She was overwhelmed and stifled and not able to be at her best. When we find ourselves in a similar situation it is very easy to get frustrated with each other, with our family and friends and with God. We allow the worries of this world to overwhelm us and get too caught up in the doing and not the being. Mary, on the other hand, illustrates how important it is for us to step back at times and regain balance and perspective. Jesus is telling Martha not to worry, but instead to seek first the Kingdom of God, and to regain perspective. I find it really encouraging that Jesus invites us to come to him just as we are.
I said to someone recently that the Bible does not promise that we will have an easy life. In the worst moments of anxiety and uncertainty, it can even sometimes be hard to see where God is and to know His peace. It’s often the external things that disturb our peace and cause that storm to rage within. Being in fellowship helps; we come alongside people who can pray, reassure, give perspective, truth-tell and encourage. How often have you heard people say “it’s not THAT bad, you can come through this” when at the time you felt lost and desperate? It helps immeasurably if we guard our hearts, and that gives a sense of constancy, consistency:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:23-27)
The only antidotes to anxiety and uncertainty that I know are faith, hope and love. The author Dan Millman said “Faith means living with uncertainty – feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.” The Bible does promise us that we are not alone – God is with us, and He has a plan for us. When we feel anxious or uncertain it is good to remember this, and that God is in control. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Through what Christ accomplished on the cross, we have been reconciled to God and that reconciliation allows us to be presented to God as holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if we continue in our faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. If we feel anxious and uncertain the truth we need to say over and over again is that we are loved by God and we are presented to Him as holy.
I know sometimes I am just like Martha; I get so caught up in the doing. Then the faith I have, the hope I know and knowing simply that God loves me somehow draw me back, helping me to be a Mary again. If you feel anxious and uncertain, I invite you to bring your worries and concerns to the best place I know and come and sit at the feet of our Saviour. Share your heart with him; all hat concerns you, all that you are, and all that you hope for. Ask him to remind you constantly of his presence, his comfort, his reassurance and his love. Amen