by Rob Tims
All too rare are the days when the list of our daily tasks lines up well with our available resources to achieve those tasks. Perhaps our expectations for the day are too high. Maybe we are lazy. Maybe time and money are short. The reasons vary, but the result is still the same: we end each day feeling we haven’t accomplished enough in order to rest well.
And our reaction to this feeling of disappointment is to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and try all the more to accomplish.
This is an unending, life-killing loop of insanity: a list of life’s demands, a futile effort to excel in all of them, hitting the sheets disappointed in our so-called failure, and resolving to kick tail and take names the next day.
This, I believe, was the world Martha lived in. Consider Luke 10:38-42 (CSB).
38 While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”
41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”
On this occasion Martha is exercised because Mary has left domestic responsibilities to give her attention to the words of Jesus, leaving Martha to take care of all of the tasks. Her obsession with getting the work done was undoing her and those around her, as busyness is prone to do, specifically in these four ways.
1. Busyness creates an inner turmoil because our work, even our work for that which is good, cannot satisfy us. This is why Jesus says, “You are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.” When we have too many competing and non-negotiable goals that we must meet to be happy, we are ensuring our misery.
2. Busyness creates an irritability with and sense of moral superiority over others, including God. Notice how Martha projects her expectations on her sister and assumes that she (Martha) is in “the right” and that the most important person in the room would agree with her. In other words, Martha’s obsession with busyness and productivity made her believe she was morally superior even to Jesus. When we grow bitter towards others for not meeting our expectations, we grow bitter towards Jesus for not correcting them. This leads me to my third point.
3. Busyness leads us to question God’s character. Questioning God’s character reveals that our busyness is really about us … it’s our idol. Tim Keller explains this very well. “If (Martha) really was doing it for Jesus, she wouldn’t have been upset when he refused to let things go the way she wants. Her unanswered plea proved she was not doing it for Jesus. She was doing it for herself.” Busyness is a subtle yet powerful idol that places our efforts on the throne, and works make a horrible god.
So, what do we do? Jesus answers this plainly. In effect, we are to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he says. We are to sit under his authority in a focused way, submitting to his leadership and ownership of all resources (which, by the way, includes our efforts).
That is to say, the only way to end the idolatry of busyness is to worship the one true God.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.