Building on Purpose
Dr. Jim Denison
I read this week an unusual list of instructions, purportedly written for those traveling the jungle regions of South America. The title: “What to Do If Attacked by an Anaconda.” The instructions are as follows:
If an anaconda attacks you, do not run. The snake is faster than you are. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides and your legs tight against one another. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body. Do not panic. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end. Always from the feet end.
The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time. When the snake has reached your knees, slowly and with as little movement as possible reach down, take your knife, and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth, between the edge of its mouth and the snake’s head.
Be sure your knife is sharp. Be sure you have your knife.
The events of this day are larger than any anaconda, and fortunately, far more exciting. Our faith family will begin today the largest and most expensive building project in our church’s history: a three-story garage for 750 cars, built beneath a three-story Community Life Center.
When our project is completed we will have the space we need to continue growing our preschool, children, and youth ministries; to gather in greater numbers for adult Bible study, fellowship events, and large weekday ministries; to reach more of our community than we have ever been able to reach before.
But how do we keep from being swallowed? How can we be sure to keep the main thing the main thing, to remember our purpose as we “continue the vision,” to keep our eye on the reason why we are stepping into this exciting chapter of ministry together? Where are life’s circumstances threatening to swallow you personally, to distract you from your purpose and calling in the will of God?
Invite Jesus into your home
Jesus’ words to Martha are God’s words to us today: “…only one thing is needed” (v. 42). We somehow believe that is true. Our culture is fascinated with life purpose in these days.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was a best-selling book and movement in the 80’s and early 90’s, similar to Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life today.
I remember often Winston Churchill’s statement to the House of Commons in June of 1941: “I have but one purpose, the destruction of Hitler; and my life is much simplified thereby.” Every time I think of his words, I am moved and challenged by them.
In my study are inscribed words from Abraham Maslow which I quote often: “An artist must paint; a poet must write; a musician must make music, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”
What purpose will give your life true meaning?
As our text begins, we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the cross; he will die in four months. He stops at Bethany, a village two miles east of Jerusalem. Here Martha lives with her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus; their home is his when he is in Judea.
This family was so prominent that many friends would later come even from Jerusalem to console them on the death of Lazarus. Now, on this occasion, Martha “opened her home to him” (v. 38), meaning that she received him as her honored guest.
Martha’s name meant “lady of the house,” and she certainly lives up to it here.
She is making the preparations necessary for proper hospitality in the ancient Middle East—cooking food (without electrical appliances), cleaning the home, preparing the furnishings for the meal to come. All of this is good and necessary.
But Martha soon confuses ends with means. She becomes “distracted” by all her preparations—the word means to be “drawn around with anxiety” which shows on her face and in her soul. She thinks more about her food than her guest; she becomes consumed with the meal and forgets the Master for whom it is intended.
Mary, her younger sister, makes no such mistake.
She had been helping with preparations earlier, but now has “left” Martha (v. 40) and “sat at the Lords’ feet listening to what he said” (v. 39). Homes of their culture were often furnished with flat chairs about two feet tall, covered with soft material and cushions. We imagine Jesus sitting on one such chair, perhaps cross-legged, while Mary sat on a rug on the floor before him.
She “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (v. 39). This is the position of a disciple before the teacher (we speak of “sitting at the feet” of a great person still today). It was extremely unusual for a Jewish rabbi to take on a woman as his student and disciple, but Jesus did so here with Mary. In the same way, he invites you to his feet today.
Note that Mary was not only in his presence, she was present with him. You are in his presence now; are you present with him? Are you listening to what he wants to say to you?
In so doing she has “chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (v. 42). “Better” refers to the best dish on the table, which is fellowship with Jesus.
Now Martha sees her younger sister at Jesus’ feet instead of in her kitchen. So she “came to him,” words which actually mean “she exploded into the room at him.” She “flew off the handle,” or “lost it,” with Jesus, and demanded that he send Mary back into the kitchen.
Making demands of the Lord of the universe doesn’t usually go well for us. It didn’t for her.
Jesus replies, “you are worried (internally divided, distracted, anxious) and upset (externally and visibly agitated, in tumult) about many things” (v. 41). This is the inevitable result of putting second things first.