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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Dishes and Prayer

Luke 10:38 - 11:13

(Psa 27:4 NIV) One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

It is the nature of man to be active; contemplation carries pleasures which are not necessarily obvious. Set against this is the fact that God wants us to seek first the Kingdom. There is a curious coincidence, if such it be, in the sequence of events. So striking is it that I have chosen to treat these two events as being connected. Perhaps they were; one cannot tell.

(Luke 10:38-42 NIV) As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. {39} She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. {40} But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" {41} "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, {42} but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Mary and Martha

Role of women

The name “Martha” in the Hebrew has a meaning. It means “lady of the house” or “mistress of the house.” Names were given to have a meaning in those days, and it is likely that Martha took her role seriously. Judging by the culture of those times, it is probable that Martha was a widow. We think so because the house is said to be her house (if married, it would be her husband’s, of course). From her role in the story, it is likely enough that she is the older sister (who would inherit). She is probably not mistress of the house by inheritance from her father -- that would have fallen to her brother, Lazarus.

All this tells us of a society in which women “knew their place.” However we might feel about it today, the women of that time would have understood Martha’s complaint perfectly. Perhaps we can translate this to modern times thusly:

·         There were no reliable hotels at the time. Hospitality was looked upon as a sign of righteousness, and anyone would value the reputation of good host.

·         More to the point in this case, it was considered an honor to have a visiting rabbi choose your home as his place to stay. Think of it this way: if Billy Graham came to preach here, and was looking for a home in which to stay, all the rich in our church would feel honored to be chosen.

·         Does anything so irritate you as to be working hard when someone else is sitting around? That’s how it looked to Martha!

·         Finally, there is this: C. S. Lewis once commented to the effect that women view charity as something they do; men view it as something they put up with. What could be more natural to Martha than to see the dishes as service to God?

Martha was “distressed.”

The Greek word used here comes from a root verb meaning “to drag all around.” The image is one of someone dragging a sack which is too heavy to lift. We remember from the Parable of the Sower and the Seed that the delights of earthly life can choke out the Word; we forget sometimes that the cares of the world are also listed there.[1] We are perfectly willing to “take no thought” for what we eat and drink -- but feel very differently about what we serve.

The remedy, as the old saying puts it, is “don’t major in minors.” We have the tendency to see any good thing as a reason to put off doing the best thing. My wife gives the appearance of being a very untidy housekeeper. She is -- but remember that neither she nor her husband think that particularly important. “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.”

Martha’s distress, however, rises to a testing point. There is a very good test here of whether or not we are concerned too much about too little. Note her reaction to the situation: she tells God what to do. She is implying that she knows the best answer; is capable of judging Mary’s lack of action, and therefore is entitled to tell God what to do about it. One recalls Jonah telling God that he knew the people of Nineveh would repent -- so why was he sent in the first place?

The “hidden” life

Such a challenge to God will not go unanswered -- at least by his children. Martha at heart loves the Lord, and He will not let her error go uncorrected. He points out to her one of the great truths of the faith: the virtue of the simple life connected to God. The dishes, pots and pans have gotten in the way of being devoted to God. The devotional life is supreme.

We must be careful here:

·         We are not to confuse the devotional life with a life of no action. Devotional life is superior to works, but faith without works is still dead.

·         Even this varies. As Kipling put it, “the sons of Mary lay their troubles on the Lord -- and the Lord, He lays them on the sons of Martha.”

C. H. Spurgeon put it this way:

The first thing for our soul’s health, the first thing for his glory, and the first thing for our own usefulness, is to keep ourselves in perpetual communion with the Lord Jesus, and to see that the vital spirituality of our religion is maintained over and above everything else in the world.

The cure for anxiety

But John, how can I do that? This is why I think the linking of the two lessons is not a coincidence:

(Phil 4:6 NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The only perfect man, the one who of all of us never needed to go to God in prayer for confession of sins, spent a very significant portion of his earthly life in prayer. Not sin, but anxiety, he sought to prevent. So then, the inner life hinges on prayer. But how to pray?

Teach us to pray

(Luke 11:1-4 NIV) One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." {2} He said to them, "When you pray, say: "'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. {3} Give us each day our daily bread. {4} Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'"

What to say?

Have you ever experienced this? Someone is asked to pray in public. After a suitable period of looking completely embarrassed, he bows his head, says, “let us pray,” and mumbles until you heard the word, “amen.” Did it ever occur to anyone else that prayer must be taught? The disciples, it seems, had figured this out.

The prayer, then, begins with two powerful words: “Our Father.”

·         “Our” Father -- Christianity is not a solo flight. I am not alone.

·         Our “Father” -- this is not a democracy, but a hierarchy, with God at the head.

·         “Our Father” -- this is a family. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in prayer as well as in person.

Three things for God

(Note that these three come first!). Most of us can remember three things pretty well. There are three things that you are commanded to pray for which bring glory to God:

·         “Hallowed” (or holy, meaning separate) is his name. It is not to be taken lightly, either as punctuation in military language -- or to be used as an old newspaper to wrap the smelly fish of our own advice.

·         “Your kingdom come” -- at the very least, we are to pray for the church and its spread around the world. Remember the Great Commandment.

·         “Your will be done” -- having prayed for the church to do as God has commanded, it would be hypocritical not to include myself. “Lord, reform thy world -- beginning with me.”

Three things for us

God knows that you have needs; he commands you to pray for them. Again, note the plural pronouns -- we are to pray for us.

·         “Our daily bread” -- our physical needs. Even if we know that the paycheck is coming, we need to acknowledge our dependence upon God for all things. And if we’re wondering where the paycheck is coming from, all the more reason to ask.

·         Forgiveness. The key to our forgiveness, of course, is the forgiveness of others. Without our forgiving one another, we will soon cease to be “us” and soon become “us and them.”

·         “Lead us not into temptation” -- when all else is accomplished, there remains the sin of pride. One indeed can be proud of one’s humility (especially if you can’t laugh at yourself.) It is the wisdom of the serpent. I may be bold and tough enough to kill the lion -- but there’s no sense going into the jungle unarmed to prove it.

What to pray, then how to pray

Now that we know what to pray, there comes the question of how.

(Luke 11:5-13 NIV) Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, {6} because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' {7} "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' {8} I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. {9} "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. {10} For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. {11} "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? {12} Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? {13} If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

The duty of persistence

It is common to interpret this passage to mean that we should repeat ourselves in prayer, as if it were a magic formula to get God’s attention. But Christ Himself warns us against that:

(Mat 6:7 NIV) And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

There are, however, three questions which you might consider with regard to this persistence:

·         What does the habit of persistence do for your character? Remember, the inner life is not separate from the life of action -- it is its foundation. If you are persistent in prayer, will you not be persistent in God’s works?

·         What does your persistence say about the object of your prayers? If you really desire something, would you hesitate to ask for it more than once? Turn that around. If you ask for it more than once, won’t you come to desire it more and more? And what will that do for your inner life?

·         If you continue to ask God for something, does that not automatically give Him time to work in your life? By asking for something, you give God the chance to change you in regard to it. God’s guidance sometimes starts with our requests, right or wrong.

Ask, seek and knock

This is often taught as just another instance of persistence. It is more than that. We are taught first to ask. What are the things we ask for? Things at hand, of course! There is a lesson in this:

·         Even though we can see a clear connection of how I’m going to get it (for example, my job and my daily bread) we are still to ask. We are to cultivate the habit of being dependent on Him.

·         There is also the lesson of manners. Your mother taught you to ask politely for someone to pass the potatoes you could grab yourself. Should you have any less courtesy for the Almighty?

We are next taught to seek. We seek that which is not at hand. This thought would ring in the Jewish ear:

(Deu 4:29 NIV) But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

The context is this: when the Jew abandons God, worshipping idols, God will drive the Jew from the Land. But if, in dispersion, the Jew will seek God, God will be found. The same is true with us: if we will seek God, no matter our circumstances of sin, we will find him.

Find him? And more; for God is a rewarder of those who seek Him:

(Heb 11:6 NIV) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Finally, we are told to knock. On the day I wrote this, a fine illustration of it came up. My daughter is in seventh grade, and we have boys coming over. One of them arranged to ride bikes with her down to a local comic book store. He arrived on time -- and stood outside, waiting for her, He didn’t ring the bell. Eventually, he assumed she was ignoring him, and went on to the store (causing great alarm when his mother found out he was missing.) He made the trip -- but failed to knock!

Even Jesus knocks; he “stands at the door and knocks.” It is the example we need to see: Jesus, totally committed to our salvation, completely patient with us. Are we praying with the same total commitment and complete patience?

God’s reaction to prayer

Jesus now makes a simple point: how do you think God will react to this kind of prayer? The comparison is to ourselves. If our little children ask us for a good thing, how pleased we are! How quick we are to grant it! Now then, if sinners do that ---- how much more will God do?

But carefully note: the inner life returns again. What is it that God will give? The Holy Spirit. Our first concern is not for the things of this world; it is for God himself. If this is so, God will be generous towards us in giving us the most precious thing a person can give: Himself.

Think about it: concerning the people you love most, what more valuable gift could they give than themselves? So it is with God, too.

(Psa 27:4 NIV) One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.


[1] Luke 8:14

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