I have learned through decades of ministry experience, Bible learning and teaching, and life experience that Jesus’ followers are not immune to adversity or feelings generally associated as negatives. Grief, anger, worry, and frustration are part of the human experience. Healthy boundaries, self-awareness, improved communication, and reasonable expectations are all valuable resources with which to navigate our emotions. Yet, are there underlying theological keys to help us reduce worry and frustration?
Mary + Martha: A Case Study
Martha welcomed Jesus and the disciples for a meal, and then she became distracted with the burden of preparing the meal. While Martha was hard at work, her sister Mary just sat in front of Jesus and listened to Him. Martha became so frustrated she accused Jesus of not caring—and told Jesus to tell Mary to help. (As a quick aside, do not miss the unmitigated chutzpah of accusing Jesus of not caring and then ordering Him to do her will.)
Jesus instantly diagnosed the condition and revealed the cure. Martha was worried and troubled about many things. She was anxious, upset, frustrated; misrepresented God by suggesting He does not care; and even told God what to do. Then, the antidote: “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:38-42). Mary chose to minister to the Lord, to be with Him and learn from Him, and that was her priority. Martha’s hospitality and meal were undoubtedly intended to serve Jesus, but because she had neglected to be with the Lord, she became anxious, upset, frustrated, and unaware of God’s love and perfect plans. Whenever we experience worry or anxiety—or feel troubled, upset, or frustrated—the antidote is to remember Jesus, spend time with Him, and recognize we are seeking to minister to Him as we serve others. The Spirit will always seek to draw us to Jesus when we drift from Him.
Mary and Martha are often described as a dichotomy in the sense that you are either a “Mary” (relationship oriented) or a “Martha” (task oriented). Yet, both relationship- and task-oriented people tend to experience inordinate amounts of worry and frustration. We all have both Mary and Martha tendencies. The way to reduce worry and frustration is not to seek to become a “Mary” but to discover the following keys:
1. Minister to the Lord:
The church at Antioch ministered to the Lord (Acts 13:2). To minister to the Lord means to honor, seek, serve, and worship God. The Greek term liturgeo is also translated worship. The term is a picture of the service to God performed by the Old Testament priests in the tabernacle and temple. The Levites had the unique privilege among the twelve tribes of this form of service. Unlike the other tribes, they would not receive an allotment of property in the Promised Land; their inheritance was the Lord Himself (Deut. 10:8-9). From God’s perspective, the Levites received the better inheritance (and that should be our perspective too).
At Antioch, ministering to the Lord was characterized by prayer, fasting, and seeking to hear from God through the prophets and teachers. Prayer is intimate communication with God. Fasting is saying “no” to the flesh in order to say “yes” to God. Fasting is not commanded in the New Testament, yet Jesus modeled it for us and presumes that we will (Matt. 6:16). Fasting in the Scriptures is related to abstaining from food but could relate to media, work, entertainment, comforts, pleasure, alcohol, or anything else that hinders you from being close to God.
In its essence, ministering to the Lord is seeking intimacy with God. This is the one thing that is needed and that good part that Mary chose that would not be taken from her, or from you or me.
2. Respect the Sabbath:
Sabbath was made to bless not burden humanity (Mark 2:27). Creation is generally blessed by Sabbath because the yoke and burden of labor is lifted from livestock as well as humanity. Yet, only God’s people can appropriate the unique blessing of Sabbath, the better inheritance, intimacy with God. Jesus’ followers are free to respect the Sabbath on any day(s) of the week.
We often neglect to respect the Sabbath. Cessation from usual labor seems difficult enough to honor in many of our cultures where constant emails, texts, and messaging related to our work inundate. For many, the Sabbath is disrespected by focusing on escaping from the drudgery and weight of our labor rather than focusing on drawing near to God. Similarly, we may equate church attendance with respecting the Sabbath. While church attendance is a way to seek to honor God, it may or may not create intimacy with God.
Sabbath provides time. Time to contemplate God. Time to read the Bible and hear from God. Time to pray like a person talking to their best friend. Time to think about the things of God. Time to gain perspective. Time to be filled by God so that you can pour out. Time to walk, time to nap, time to be refreshed by those who love you and whom you love. Time for food, time for entertainment, time to play, and even time to serve others.
We need the Sabbath. We must respect that it is necessary to have rhythms and spiritual disciplines that cultivate intimacy with God. Our well-being depends on it; that is why God gave this gift to us.
Sabbath provides time to discover and ideally adopt God’s view regarding the things that we are worried and troubled about.
3. Yield to God:
The Mary and Martha case study is profound. The narrative causes us to project our own values and identity into the setting. Like Jonah, the “ending” is not given to us. God spoke to Jonah, but the prophet’s response is not revealed. Similarly, God spoke to Martha, but her response is not revealed.
Can you imagine Martha turning from Jesus and saying, “Whatever” and then grumbling and complaining about Jesus not caring, her sister being lazy, and her having to do all the work? That would presumably not have been the desired outcome of Jesus’ correction. Similarly, it would not have reduced Martha’s worry and frustration an iota.
There is a part of me that wants to see the rest of the story unfold. I want Martha to stop cooking and sit next to her sister at the feet of Jesus. I want Martha to listen to Him, not just hear Him speak, but to listen. I want her to experience her countenance changing, her emotions and thoughts being restored. I want to know that her troubles and frustration melted away. I want Martha to tell Mary and Jesus that she is sorry for what she thought and said, and I want to see the three of them hug. I want Jesus to then tell Mary to help her sister with the meal prep.
Jesus gave Martha the diagnosis and the antidote, but alas there is no Hallmark ending provided.
Worry and frustration are part of the human experience. The experience of those feelings, especially increasing in intensity and/or frequency, should create an awareness that there is something amiss. What is missing is time with Him. We need to yield to God, minister to the Lord, and respect the Sabbath. As your story unfolds, remember you now have the keys to reduce worry and frustration. God cares for us, and using these keys has helped me—and I hope using them will help you too.