What God Says About Proving Yourself
On my most recent journey through the Gospel according to Luke, I was ambushed by the account of Jesus’ visit to a certain set of sisters.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:38–42
Poor Martha. She’s taken a lot of flak from Bible-readers through the centuries. And I had been no exception until my last glimpse of her flaws gave me the sinking feeling I was glancing in a mirror.
You see, I’ve been getting this sense lately that I’m not a very good friend. Or Life Group leader. Or Kids Ministry volunteer. Or wife. Or daughter. Or sister. Or neighbor. Or any of the other labels I wear. Why?
There’s not enough me to go around. Put simply, I’m spent.
Yet whom have I to blame but myself? It’s me who chokes my calendar with too many commitments, running myself ragged day after week after month. It’s me who pours out every last drop of myself until there’s nothing left to give. So, why continue this way when I appear so aware of its exhausting effect?
Grace. It turns out, I don’t buy it.
Of course, if you asked me, I would claim grace as the basis of my entire worldview — of the Gospel I ascribe to, of my identity in Christ — but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words, I suppose. And my actions reveal I’m desperate to do enough, not that I am enough. When I’ve given all I have to give (and then some), I hope to finally be worthy to receive — to enjoy appreciation, praise, and ultimately, love. This tells me one thing: I haven’t quite grasped grace.
I see a kindred spirit in Martha. Here’s why.
1️⃣ She loved Him.
Martha loved Jesus. She really did. And when I project my own motives onto Martha’s actions, I imagine she didn’t busy herself because she ultimately cared whether the house was perfectly swept or the bread served warm, but because she wanted Him to love her back.
That’s what I want, too. I want Him to love me and appreciate my self-sacrificial service in His honor. The Martha in me expects all this hard work to earn myself His approval, attention, and affection.
But that’s not how it works, is it? As the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Apparently, God loved me before I ever loved Him. He loved me even when I had rejected and ignored Him. As Romans 5:8 so plainly puts it, it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for Martha and me.
So, while my actions appear well-intended, my perception is warped. I’ve projected fickle human affection onto the perfect, unconditional love of God. A love undeserved yet freely given to you and me alike.
2️⃣ She did good things.
Oh, I can do good things. Lots of them. And so could Martha. Notice Jesus didn’t rebuke her for engaging in sinful or self-indulgent practices but for distracting herself. Her flurry of good works became a barrier to true intimacy with Him. In the name of doing good, she was invulnerable, detached.
Like Martha, I can wear my good works as an armor against true intimacy with God. In struggling to admit my weaknesses, I tuck them away behind a facade of self-righteousness. It’s only then I feel I can come to God worthy of His love. But does that sound like the Gospel?
This is where grace again reminds me I can never do enough to make myself good, faultless, or worthy. Hence, the cross.
The truth is, however hard I scrub, I could never free myself of the stain and stench of sin — never present myself worthy to a holy God. But it’s also true that I don’t have to. As explained in the book of Hebrews, when God looks at me, He sees the perfection of His sinless Son:
We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. –Hebrews 10:10
In Christ, I have been made holy. By Him, I will be presented blameless before the presence of God’s glory (Jude 24). And this is not my own doing, not a result of my good works, but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8–9). The same was true for Martha, and the same is true for you.
3️⃣ She carried the weight of the world.
In her frustration, Martha complained the weight of her responsibility was too heavy to carry alone. Do you ever feel the needs are so great, the opportunities for good so endless, you can never seem to do enough? To catch up? To take a breath?
It appears Martha did, and so can I. When we, like Martha, feel we’re carrying the weight of the world God created and sustains, we’ve gotten a bit turned around. God is God. And in His all-sufficiency, He needs not a thing from us.
This makes it painfully clear that when we turn serving Him into a burdensome, tiresome task, we’ve missed it. Jesus Himself declared His yoke easy and light:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. — Matthew 11:28–30
Why? Because it’s nothing to do with our own strength, abilities, or goodness and everything to do with His — with the power of His Spirit within us. So, remember, when you feel the weight of the world bearing down on you, it’s not God who put it there, but you who took it upon yourself.
4️⃣ She was blind to what He had for her.
All that serving and weight-of-the-world-carrying distracted Martha from seeing and receiving the love and grace Jesus already had for her.
In response to her grievance, Jesus so gently informed her nothing she was doing mattered. He didn’t need her contributions. He wanted her. And she had missed the point: Him. Like Martha, I learn from His grace-filled correction that my good portion isn’t contingent on my good works, ever out of reach. It’s available to me now, waiting on me to choose it.
If, like me, you’re exhausted of trying to be enough for God and everyone else, it’s time not to work harder to “fix yourself” out of shame of this fault but to humbly receive His gift. To accept that you don’t need to prove yourself to Him. In fact, you never could.
So, rest at His feet. And remember, though you’ve been anxious and troubled about many things, only One is necessary.