Only One Thing Is Necessary


God is too easily forgotten in all of the madness of our busy lives. Who has time to pay attention to spiritual things? We can sometimes be too busy, too tired, too entertained, or too overwhelmed to care.

Or maybe in our deepest heart, we do care, but we don’t even know what to do about it. On the one hand, we have all these tasks and duties and responsibilities weighing us down; on the other hand, we have God — the very God who says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Being still sounds nice. But we live in a squeeze of pressing demands. Does God really expect this of us?

In Luke 10:38–42, Jesus gives one of the most poignant answers:

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.”

Many of us have felt like coming to Martha’s defense when we’ve read this. Poor soul. She only wanted to serve. We can’t all be like Mary, can we? But Jesus’s words ring in my ear every time I read this account: “one thing is necessary.” I have to ask myself, Do I actually believe that? Is it reflected in the way that I view my time?

I’m not used to thinking about what’s necessary. When I look at my time management, I usually break it down into three categories: (1) things I must do, such as paying bills or feeding my kids; (2) things I should do, such as exercising or cleaning out the creepy refrigerator; and (3) things I want to do, such as going out to dinner or shopping with my girls.

But Jesus, our Lord, said only one thing is necessary. If this were a suggestion from a friend or an idea from a great book, I might be able to dismiss it as simplistic. But this is Jesus. He’s not simplistic. He’s speaking to a woman’s heart and cutting right through her every defense.

Don’t Scrounge For Crumbs

Imagine that God invited you to a great banquet. You see a magnificent table overflowing with spiritual food. Everything you really need is on that table: comfort, wisdom, peace, love, worth, joy, victory, forgiveness, truth, patience, and the list goes on. God’s heart is that you would sit down at the table with him and eat as much as you need to walk away deeply satisfied (Psalm 107:9) and equipped “with everything good that you may do his will” (Hebrews 13:21).

But so many of us don’t sit and eat. We may dash in for a quick bite, but the little burst of energy fizzles out pretty quickly. We may stand outside the door, waiting for others who have had their fill to come and bring us some leftovers. This is not only lazy; it makes no sense when we are given a personal invitation. Sadly, I picture many of us crawling around under the table, picking up crumbs, wondering why we feel so spiritually empty and weak.

Come to the bountiful table. Sit with your generous Lord and feed your starving soul.

Choose The Good Portion

What else did Jesus say about Mary? Not only was she doing the one necessary thing, but she had chosen the good portion. The good portion was necessary, but it also was a choice.

Our bodies won’t survive more than a few days without water. It is necessary for life. But you and I still make the choice every day to drink from a cup that literally sustains our life. The same is true of your spiritual cup: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Jesus was Mary’s portion. Is he yours? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Is your hunger and thirst satisfied in Christ? Do you love being in his presence? If you are binging on junk food, you will not have an appetite for a fresh, healthy meal. And in the same way, your soul cannot crave the bread of life if, like Martha, you are “distracted with much serving” or “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:40–41).

Jesus comes to us in love and authority. Don’t discount his authority because of his love for you. It is Christ himself who tells us what is truly necessary. The next time you are tempted to think that there are many earthly things that you must do, remember what he said.

As the world careens on in all its frenetic madness, and many demands insist on our attention, we can become people who choose to be still, sit at the Lord’s feet, and listen to his voice. For it’s in his word that we will receive the good portion we need most.

Lisa Chan is married to Francis Chan. They have seven children and are the authors of “You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity”. She is a guest contributor for DesiringGod.org.

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