We like extremes. On the busyness teeter-totter, we either tip toward burnout or slip toward rust out. In life’s locker room, the workaholics huddle on one side and the carefree sprawl on the other. But both groups are out of the game. Like cars, neither the burned out nor the rusted out can win the race!
Directionless living forms rust. The stroll in the park becomes a sleep on the bench. But burnout has the same end. The runner dashes in the 10K as if it were a 100-meter event; he’s left gasping for breath.
Did Mary Miss the List?
The over-driven dream tyrannizes us as we fit more into a day – addicted to the rush, the checklist, and the praise of accomplishment. But pure busyness can bubble pride and ferment a critical spirit. “Why isn’t everyone like me? I’m sure so-and-so could do more to serve the Lord.”
Our teeter-totters haven’t moved for months, the burnout ends firmly embedded in the sand. Forgetting how much more there is to see when our feet are off the ground, we have equated busyness with spirituality, and it has left us like miserable children in the playground.
Martha sat on the busyness seat. “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” Our Lord’s answer was in language accomplishers understand. He spoke of prioritizing the important and underlining the urgent. “One thing is needful,” He said, “And Mary hath chosen that good part” (Luke 10:42).
Mary? The sister who didn’t sign up to help in the kitchen? She wasn’t even at the planning meeting. Surely she could be doing more around here! And she could be, but more is not always good. It isn’t that Mary had overlooked the to-do list; she had simply added a task at the top: Sit and speak with Christ. In this case, Mary had wisely chosen the needful, the one thing.
Useful when Faithful in the Needful
Do we treat communion with Christ as an inconvenience—draining our valuable time? The poet wrote, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” But have we taken this life motto to unintended extremes? Is there so much to do for Him that we can’t take time with Him? How can our busyness please Him if it preempts what He calls needful?
Actually, both Martha and Mary were doers. In John 12, one had slaved over the stove; the other had searched out the spikenard. No doubt the Lord appreciated everything Martha had prepared for the meal. Much to her credit, there was no bitterness this time as she focused on Him. But it was Mary who again got the greatest commendation. In her time with Christ, she had learned His schedule; that He was about to give His life. Her actions flowed from insight at His feet. She could do better than keeping busy; she knew what to do when, and her service became eternally significant. “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mark 14:9). Mary, faithful in the needful, was useful in the eternal. Her motto was, “Only what’s done with Christ will last.”
The great Psalm-writer also practiced one-thing living. “One thing have I desired of the Lord,” David wrote, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4). Surely Israel’s king, whether in power or in exile, was loaded with pressing needs and responsibilities. But as he scrolled down his list, the one thing that came before all others was communion with the Lord.
Notice that it didn’t just happen for David. He, no doubt, had the inborn desire all children of God feel for a closer relationship with their Redeemer. We can all say that greater communion is “one thing I have desired.” But David made his passive feeling an active petition. “One thing have I desired of the Lord.” He wanted it and he asked for it. It headed his list. Maybe we struggle to enjoy communion with Christ because we haven’t desired it of the Lord.
And when would a king schedule this vital appointment? Thursdays at seven? Sunday mornings? David says, “All the days of my life.” Let’s review our online planners and pocket agendas. What priority have we given to communion with Christ? Where have we slotted the needful?
Paul’s Press and Prize
Paul, bringing us back to the runners with their strategies and stages, adds his name to the list of one-thing saints. He was an accomplisher for Christ who was in the race to obtain. What was his primary goal, his master strategy? “This one thing I do,” he says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul is running, heart pounding and eyes focused, “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1). We can only keep Him in the sights of our faith by spending time with Him. It’s needful. It’s the only way to win.
It All Hinges on One Thing
Busyness in the Christian life, even in spiritual service, can be good or bad. It depends on one thing, the needful: have I been with Him? As the disciples neared burnout, the Lord said, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). It wasn’t, “Go,” it was, “Come.” The rest was with Him; the secret of spiritual endurance. As we plan life strategies, communion with the Lord must be our primary goal and our place of renewal. Prayerfully, making time spent at His feet the daily priority, our running becomes relevant and our service eternally significant. Only then will the prize be within sight and within reach.