Saturday, February 22, 2014

Just listen

I totally get where Martha's coming from. Most of us probably do. Most of us have a little more in common with her than we do with Mary.

If you remember, back in Bible days when Jesus walked on earth, he and his disciples used to go to the house of three siblings a lot. These three, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, always seemed to have a lot of people over when Jesus came. And Martha, being the awesome, ninja-skills hostess she was, liked to make sure everything was perfect. A little too perfect.

I can imagine it now: a servant waiting with fresh water of just the right temperature right by the door for washing feet, and soft towels for wiping them off before the guests entered the main part of the house. As your feet are being washed, you can hear the soft strains of harp music wafting through the hall. The spicy scent of kebabs and the warmth of baked bread drifts past you, as the taste of cumin and clove fills your mouth. You cross the scrubbed-shiny floor, and are greeted by another servant with a cup of chilled wine as you enter the room where everyone has gathered. Jesus has just arrived, and everyone is crowding around to hear the Teacher. The press of bodies makes the already warm room even hotter, but the cup of chilled wine that's constantly being refilled helps you not to notice, and the stale smell of sweat is masked a bit by the sweet earthy incense wafting from the corner.*

Someone would have to keep all this running smoothly. And Martha, the good, hospitable hostess, was just the lady for the job. But, as you know, running a party can be pretty exhausting, and it's a pretty thankless job unless someone notices. Martha needed help to keep this thing going. And when she saw her sister just "sitting around" doing "nothing," it looked like this was her opportunity. Here she could ask Jesus to tell Mary to help her. The Master would notice all her hard work, and acknowledge what an awesome person she was. Everyone would think she was the best hostess ever, and she'd get some help.

It doesn't quite turn out that way. When Martha "asks" Jesus, He turns around and, instead of praising her in front of everyone, rebukes her. Instead of getting her sister to help her, Jesus informs Martha that her hard work is distracting her from what's really important, and Mary, choosing to sit and listen, won't be dragged into Martha's plans (Luke 10:38-42).

We all fall into the same trap Martha did (at least I do). We'll jump to sing in the choir, help with Vacation Bible School, go on that missions trip, but we'll neglect our devotions morning after morning for that ten extra minutes of the snooze button. We'll shovel driveways, donate food, and attend every single event our church and the one in the next town over has to offer, but we'll barely spend five minutes talking to God in quiet prayer.

None of that stuff is bad. There's nothing wrong with going on missions trips or attending church events. It's awesome to donate food and shovel snow for people. But if we're not careful, all these good things will get in the way of what's really important: spending time with Jesus. Learning from Jesus. Listening for His voice; learning from His Word. We'll get so distracted by it all, we'll forget why we do it; we'll forget Who we do it for. It'll become all about us, instead of all about Jesus.

I don't think Jesus was telling Martha that all her serving was bad. But she let all her desires for keeping everyone comfortable get in the way of what is the most important: spending time with Jesus. Listening to Jesus. Learning from Jesus. Just sitting at His feet.

Father, please keep us from neglecting our time with You in our service for You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

*Note, this is totally my imagination running wild. God doesn't give us much of a description of how things went about that day, probably because He didn't want the fancy party planners of us mimicking Martha's "perfect" party. Oh, yeah, and probably because the whole point Jesus made about the difference in the two sisters' behavior was way more important.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lows

I don't know about you, but I go through highs and lows oftener than I'd like. Sometimes I'm so pumped about what I'm doing, what I see God doing, what's going on in my life, that I'm on Cloud Nine. I'm invincible. Nothing can get me down. Stubbed my toe against the coffee table? I'll be whistling once I'm done trying not to scream. Slipped and fell on the antarctic sidewalk outside? I'll get up and brush myself off and be on my way in no time. Gained two pounds because of that birthday party? I'll just eat better and it'll quickly come off.

But then come the lows. Which, unfortunately, in our sinful world, are to be expected. Highs and lows are a part of our life here on earth. Hills and valleys. But unlike the gentle hills and shallow valleys of a little kid's picture*:


To me they feel a lot more like this:



Lows stink. They're what makes it hard to get things done, to get out of bed. They make it hard to remember that, though it stinks compared to everything else in your life, in reality you're pretty lucky when it comes down to comparing your "cruddy" life to someone else's. (Like people in third-world countries. At least we've got access to the internet and ridiculously cute cat videos.) But when you're falling off into that deep, deep, dark, horrendous, foul, bug-infested, creepy-crawly, heart-stabbing low, it's kind of hard to keep everything in perspective. It's hard to remember that God loves us, that He's promised never "to leave" or "forsake" us (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV). It's hard to remember that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28, NKJV). It's hard to remember that, if He takes care of birds and weeds, He'll take care of us too (Matthew 6:25-30).

Joshua was a guy who could've ended up in a major low. And if you know his story, you know he had it much worse than we normally do. I mean, how many of us have to take over for the national hero, only to lead into a land full of giants and fortified cities the kids of  the same people who whined and chickened out of marching into this place forty years ago? But instead of getting into a slump, instead of letting himself tumble over the cliff into a mud pool of misery, he believed God. God told him to "Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9, NKJV). 

That same promise still holds true for us today. God lets us go through lows, but He won't leave us there. He pulls us out of that tar pit of self-pity. He brings us through all those annoying things, all those painful things we're going through. He promises it'll be okay, even though it doesn't feel like it is right now, even though it doesn't feel like it can ever be okay again. We just need to take Him up on that. 

Father, thank You for bringing me through everything, whether good or bad. Help me to trust You to keep bringing me through. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

*Okay, confession, I drew these. When it comes to drawing skills, I'm slightly below an average 4 1/2 year-old.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dealing with difficult people

We've all dealt with them. That girl in your project group who does her part half-baked last minute, way after you agreed to send it to each other. That teacher who tells you to study one thing for the test, and then has something completely different on it. That guy who keeps calling you to complain about the universe (but especially girls).

No, I am not making these up. These are all examples of people I've had to deal with. I'm sure you could add more (hey, I could add more). Life just includes dealing with difficult people. And, if we're honest, sometimes we're the difficult people others are dealing with. It's part of our fallen world, where our sin nature slams into our many different personalities, values, and cultures to make a steaming hot pot of difficult. When we're with Jesus in Heaven, where there is no sin, we'll get along. But here, where we're all flawed, where we all are focused on pushing our own agenda, we're going to be dealing with difficult people, and sometimes being that difficult person ourselves.

That doesn't make it easy, though. If it was, my stomach wouldn't be in knots right now. For my internship, I have a new professor. She doesn't know all the ropes of mentoring and supervising school counseling students yet. That's something I try to keep in mind during our interactions. She often assumes things which aren't true, and getting a hold of her is like finding a box of needles in a lava pit. She expects things of her students which they aren't capable of carrying out (for example, she wanted us to resubmit a paper online, when she hadn't cleared out the previous submission, and then when she finally got around to clearing it out acted like we were loafers not getting our work done). She's flawed.

But so am I. I've been the difficult person too. I've been the person who drove my study partner crazy with all my questions for our professor when she just wanted to get going. I've been the person who's nagged people about getting their part of our group projects done. I've been the person who wouldn't speak to her friend because she wouldn't listen to advice.

So what do we do when we have this difficult person? Pray for them. Chances are, they're not being difficult just for the fun of it. There's probably something going on in their life which is "causing" them to be difficult. I was the difficult study partner because I wanted to make sure we were covering all the bases. I was the difficult group project member because I wanted to make sure we got it done on time. I was the difficult friend because I was afraid of the direction my friend was headed. That's no excuse for their (my) behavior, but realizing that helps us (at least me) realize that they're human. We all act like huge outrageous jerks when we're dealing with a lot of stuff. We forget that God's big enough to take care of even these little piddly things, and instead run around like the world's going to explode. We doubt. We sin. And we take it out on those around us.

While you're at it, pray for yourself too. If nothing else, you're going to need grace dealing with this person so you don't try to out-jerk him or her. But maybe you're part of the problem. Maybe there's something, whether miscommunication or otherwise, which has helped set this person over the edge of niceness into jerkdom. Not excusing anyone (you're responsible for your own cruddy attitude/behavior), but just pray and ask God to see what your part in it might've been, if any. If He doesn't convict you, great, you can have a clear conscience about it.

And treat the other person with kindness. We all need grace. Jesus died for us specifically because we needed grace. He urges us to love those who are jerks, to pray for people who hate us for no reason (Matthew 5:44). It's not going to be easy. There's going to be a whole lot of times where you're going to have to bite back a well-deserved snide remark, or a good slap to the head. But remember, we all deserve much worse, and yet Jesus came to save us from it. If we have been saved from hell through our relationship with Him, can't we show a little compassion to each other?

Father, thank You for Your compassion to me. Help me as I deal with difficult people, and help me to show them Your love and grace. In Jesus' Name, Amen.