I remember the excitement of watching our children, and then our grandchildren, learn to walk. It’s great to watch the little ones take those first few steps. But you know what happens then, don’t you? They are then able to get all over the place, but they do not yet know all the ‘dos and don’ts.’ So they enter that age where you can’t let them out of your sight. It’s the same when they learn to talk. It is not long after those first few highly anticipated words come out that you are having to teach them they are not supposed to be talking all the time. Everyone recognizes that there is at least a little bit of truth in the old line about raising kids that says, “You spend three years teaching a child to walk and talk, and then you have to spend the next ten years teaching them to sit down and shut up.” That overstates the case, because we certainly do want the little ones to keep walking and talking. But children do need to learn that there is a time and a place for everything– for walking and talking, and for sitting down and being quiet.
There is much in the Bible about getting busy and doing God’s work, and there is much about sitting still and listening. Both parts are present in Luke chapter ten. Get busy, Jesus says in the first thirty-seven verses, there is much work to do. Sit down and shut up and listen, Jesus implies in his words to Martha in the last two verses of the chapter.
The chapter begins with Jesus sending out 72 evangelists to go ahead of him into the towns that he will visit to prepare the way for him. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” Jesus says, and then gives the workers a long list of things to do as they enter the villages to proclaim God’s Word and announce the coming of His kingdom. The next section of the chapter contains the parable of the Good Samaritan. The hero of that story is a man who does something, who stops and helps another man who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead. Jesus then concludes the text with the words, “Go and do likewise.” Don’t just sit there, don’t just pass by on the other side and ignore someone in need– do something to serve your neighbor who is in need.
Immediately following that is the story of Jesus visiting at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. In this story, it is Martha who seems to be doing what is right in line with what Jesus said in the previous two stories. It was Martha, says verse 40, who was busy with all the preparations that had to be made, and that probably included getting something prepared for a meal for their guest. Everyone has to eat, so one would think that would be a good way to serve your neighbor. Mary, however, was just “sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to what he said” (verse 39). Martha strongly objects to Mary’s inactivity and says to Jesus “Tell her to help me!” Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Or in other words, “Sit down and be quiet, Martha. What I am saying is important, and you need to pay attention.”
This is the lesson little children need to learn. There is a time and a place for everything; a time for running and loud talking and playing, and a time for sitting and being quiet and listening. In Luke chapter ten, Jesus is applying this to our life as God’s children. There is a time to be busy, working and serving in obedience to God’s commands; and, there is a time to be stop and be quiet and listen to Jesus, also in obedience to God’s command. One would think a good time to stop and listen to Jesus would be if you had him right in your own home. That would be a good time to just have a pizza delivered and not busy oneself with making a big meal. And if you aren’t expecting a visit by Jesus in person to your home anytime soon, the next best thing is to do what the people of God have always done, and set aside a day a week to hear God’s Word and to worship. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy,” says the third commandment, and Deuteronomy chapter five goes on to say, “Six days you should labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is to be observed as a Sabbath unto the Lord.” There is a time to be busy, and there is a time to set aside for the Lord.
II Peter 1:19 says, “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place.” If someone believes in God at all, it would be only logical for that person to wonder what it is that God expects of us; what God wants us to do or to believe. Well, says Peter, what God wants from us first of all is our attention. God wants us to pay attention to Him and His word for us. It is just like parents who have to often insist that their children pay attention, and find it extremely annoying when they do not.
The Bible doesn’t just say, ‘Have faith!’ and leave it at that. Peter has a word of hope for those who find faith difficult. Just pay attention, Peter says, just find ways to pay attention to God, and, says the rest of the Bible, and the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. The little story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha is an illustration of how that is done. Don’t be so busy, said Jesus, that you don’t have time for the one thing needful, that one thing that is of eternal importance. Yes, says Jesus in the rest of the chapter, keep busy and do what needs to be done. But do take the time, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His Word.
Don’t just do something; sometimes just sit there, be quiet, and listen.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 — There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…
John 9:4 — (Jesus said), “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
Psalm 46:10a — He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
–I Samuel 3:10b