December 6, 1989
The last half of November translates into the first half of the Christmas rush. Busy, busy, busy. Concerts, shopping, parties and the other extras of Christmas accelerate our normal over-booked lifestyle, making this time of the year stuffed fuller than the anticipated turkey.
Some people have a calendar crammed with reminders. I’d spin out without my personal time management book. But whatever we use to keep track, active people struggle to juggle the invitations, obligations, responsibilities and appointments without burning out or turning grey before our time.
A friend of mine has a “Priority Jar.” It is filled to the brim with white rice and a few chestnuts. The basic disciplines of Christian living are represented by the chestnuts. All the other demands of life are represented by the rice. She says if she puts the few chestnuts in first, all the rice will fit in next. But if she puts the rice in first, there will always be some of the chestnuts that can’t be squeezed into the jar. For those who are skeptical, she is happy to give a demonstration.
That shakes loose a thought or two: Is it genuinely spiritual to say YES to all those demands (rice), running from dawn to dark, falling into bed totally exhausted every day? (Can you imagine Jesus wearing Nike’s as He races from one city to another?) Does God want us up to our eyeballs in agenda — even if everything on the list is good, noble and needed? Just because the Bible has plenty to say about laziness, does it advocate burnout as the alternative to rust-out?
The story of Martha and Mary comes to mind. They were sisters of Lazarus, a man Jesus raised from the dead. One day the Lord came to visit them. “... Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’ Jesus answered, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
At first, it seems that Jesus was a bit harsh with Martha. After all, she was only trying to be a good hostess. Perhaps she had left Him (notice the word “also” indicating she had been seated) because supper was burning. On the other hand, she may have headed to the kitchen because this was JESUS visiting and she wanted to make a good impression. She certainly wanted to please Him. And note, Mary had been in the kitchen and left.
Whatever Martha's reasons, it appears Jesus didn’t send her to serve. Martha actually chose her busy situation herself. Then she became over-burdened because she magnified the importance of what she was doing out of proportion to her alternate choice. Think about it: being with Jesus Christ took second place to making lunch! Martha's priorities were wrong.
Mary picked the right thing to do for the occasion -- after all, Jesus didn’t drop by every day. What better opportunity to learn directly from the Wisdom of the Ages? She could prepare a couple of sandwiches later, but seldom could she sit and talk personally with the Son of God. She had her priorities straight.
Today, life presents so many choices. Saying NO to all demands may be one way to end the rat race but somehow I don’t think Jesus wants us to toss out all the rice. Instead, the story of Martha and Mary suggests putting the chestnuts in first. Jesus invites His people to set the calendar aside for a while and choose a quiet time with Him. He knows what else has to be done but without His calm guidance, we may choose fruitless frenzy -- sometimes whole heaping platters full. However, He promises that when we choose the good part, it will be ours forever. And like my friend and her jar, Jesus willingly gives demonstrations for the skeptical.