The Martha Syndrome


rope horse

Exactly how many theological degrees do we need to understand how to simply stop…when we’re overwhelmed?

I recommend a short prayer to you…

Lord Jesus, you know how overwhelmed I am.  You also know my concern with others perceiving me as weak.  Jesus you commanded me to come to you when I am overwhelmed, Lord, please help me come to you.

I’m a deacon in a very large church, by many standards.  As I intercede for the leaders of my church, the members of Jesus’ body and others, increasingly, I witness people who are utterly overwhelmed, but don’t exactly know how to get off of the treadmill of life.  This post will focus on some simple principals to achieve this end.

Let’s take a look at the focal character identified in the title of this post; Martha, the sister of Lazarus…Jesus’ friend whom Jesus raised from the dead.

Now as they went on their way, 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.”  Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

This passage of scripture is in the Word of God to help us understand some things about our spiritual gifts, our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and how to properly set our priorities in light of our personal relationship to Jesus.  Let’s note a few things from this passage.

  1. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, which demonstrates she has gifts of administration & hospitality.  Nothing wrong there.
  2. Mary enjoy’s sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words.  Nothing wrong here.  I know I read somewhere “You are cleansed by the words I’ve spoken to you”.  John 11:2 (ESV) also reveals to us that because of Mary’s focus, she lavished worship on Jesus, even to the point where she was ridiculed because of it.
  3. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that’s so fixed on forcing you to see things their way, it’s clear they haven’t heard a word you said?  Well, this is exactly the scene as Martha is talking with Jesus.  This is the reason the scripture records Jesus calling Martha’s name twice.  You’ve seen it before, you’re trying to get a word in edge wise until finally you resort to calling the person’s name repeatedly until they acknowledge the fact that you’re trying to tell them something.
  4. Uh oh, now we face a challenge.  The scripture says Martha was distracted with “MUCH SERVING”.  Okay, you would think serving and completing projects is the core activity of the person with God given gifts of administration and hospitality.  However, the scripture makes it clear that serving was a “DISTRACTION” for Martha.  Why?  We’ll see why later.
  5. Now the agitation, frustration and warped perception, brought on by the distraction in Martha’s heart, leaves Martha’s mouth and makes it’s way to Jesus’ ear in the form of an accusation that Mary and Jesus don’t care about what’s important to her.  She not only accuses Jesus of being callous toward what’s important to her, but she also accused Mary of abandoning her and sticking her with the total workload.  It’s important that I remind you that Martha is the one that invited Jesus and his companions in the first place, not Mary or Jesus.  John 11:5 (ESV) tells us that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
  6. Martha then proceeds to tell Jesus what to do (I know, I know…I couldn’t believe it either).  “Tell her then to help me“.  I’d be willing to bet that she did her best to get Mary to come away from Jesus, prior to trying to make Jesus…make Mary do something she obviously didn’t want to do.  Why?  Martha has a gift of administration and people with this gift tend to see people as instruments to be used to complete a task instead of seeing the person and what God has instructed them to do first.  For more info, see Discovering Your God Given Gifts by Don & Katie Fortune (ISBN 978-0-8007-9108-7)
  7. When Jesus finally speaks, as is His custom, He brings multiple things to light in a few words.
  8. First, what the scripture records as a distraction in the early part of the story, Jesus reveals as anxiety and a mental disturbance.  This is very significant, in explaining Martha’s irrational behavior.
  9. Second, Jesus reveals that because of the current condition Martha was in, I’m positive it was a temporary one, she was absolutely clueless as to the most important thing at that moment in time.  In other words, she was totally ignorant of what she needed at that very moment.  As we’ll see, this is also very significant.
  10. Third, Jesus reveals to Martha that Mary, in sitting at Jesus’ feet…refusing to let anything else distract her, has chosen to spend her time doing what’s “good“.  The word “good” here in the Greek meant that which would benefit her.  Again, this is significant, don’t miss it.
  11. Lastly, because Mary has chosen the good (beneficial portion), what she received would not be taken away from her.  Did you know that the scripture makes it clear that there are some people who get very excited when they hear the Word of God.  However when test and trials come to validate that the word has taken root in their heart, because they are encumbered with the cares of this life and deceived by riches, the Word of God becomes unfruitful in their lives?  In other words, what they received, they were not able to hold onto because of anxiety and mental disturbances.

Okay we have two sisters, both of whom are busy doing something.  Martha with a boat-load of domestic duties and Mary simply sitting at the feet of Jesus clinging to His every word, being built up.  We have Martha, suffering an anxiety attack and a mental disturbance, which causes her to go into attack mode against people who aren’t guilty.  The reason this is significant is because of what’s about to happen.  Before we get there, please keep in mind that Jesus tried to get Martha to understand that she needed to simply stop and spend time with Him, because Jesus knew what was about to take place.  By the way, trying to get someone with the gift of administration to slow down is pretty challenging.  I don’t recommend it.  Trust the fact that Jesus made it clear that when He wants to speak to us, we hear His voice.  Leave it for God to handle.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  You will know exactly how much time you’ve spent being strengthened and cleansed by Jesus, by your reaction when an unexpected tragedy hits you close to home.

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has diedJohn 11:14 (ESV)

Okay, now you see why Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary was so significant?  Although they weren’t aware of what was about to take place; Jesus was.  Remember, he loves them, just like He loves you and me.  When Jesus knows a difficult time is headed our way, He always tries to build us up and prepare us for the times ahead.  The question is whether we are discerning enough to hear His voice and then do what He prescribes.  Martha didn’t do this, so let’s see how both sister’s face Jesus after the death of their brother.

Martha: So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him  John 11:20 a (ESV)

Mary: but Mary remained seated in the house   John 11:20 b (ESV)

Martha: Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  John 11:21-27 (ESV)

Mary: When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him John 11:28-29 (ESV)

Mary: Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept  John 11:32-35

Now we get to the nitty-gritty of what this post is all about.  In the scriptures above, please notice the difference in the reaction of Martha versus Mary.  Once Martha hears Jesus is near, she immediately proceeds to go to Him and request that He do something about her brothers death.  On the other hand, even though Mary is aware that Jesus is near, she doesn’t move at all.  Mary waits on Jesus to invite her to come to Him, and when she does, she starts by worshipping.  Mary’s response demonstrates clearly that she was built up and strengthened before the tragedy struck.  Or in the words of my Apostle, “it’s best to know God before you get in trouble“.

Both women declare their faith that if Jesus was there, Lazarus would not have died.  However, there’s a difference between Martha and Mary that’s significant.  It’s clear from the text that Martha is in an anxious state about her brothers death but Mary seems to be at peace.  Sort of like a peace that passes all understanding.

Here’s what I want to bring out from this passage of scripture.  II Timothy chapter 3 reveals a startling truth about being stressed, anxious and overwhelmed for an extended period of time.  In essence, the opening text of that chapter reveals that instead of loving God, as a direct result of being in this state for a prolonged period of time, people would focus on themselves, the things this world has to offer and pleasure more than their relationship with Jesus.  This is clearly seen in the life of Martha from the passages of scripture presented above.

I also would like to mention that it’s clear Jesus is not telling Martha to stop operating in her area of gifting.  Jesus did not rebuke Martha.  Jesus’ words were loving, kind, gentle and filled with a love for Martha that allowed her to disregard what Jesus was trying to teach her the first time around.  What Jesus attempted to tell Martha, prior to Lazarus dying, was that operating in your gift is pleasing to God, but not when it consumes so much of your time that you forsake the relationship with the one that gave you the gift to begin with.

Dear Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, Intercessor, Prayer Warrior, Deacon, etc…no tragedy…no person…no task…no assignment…no vision is more important than your relationship to Jesus Christ, especially in the times we live in.  I strongly encourage you to reflect on the three simple steps Jesus prescribed to the saints at Ephesus, if you know you’ve lost your first love.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent  Revelation 2:4-5

  1. Remember therefore from where you have fallen – Do you remember when you first entered a love relationship with the lover of your soul?  If it was anything like me, you had absolutely no responsibilities and Jesus was the most important person you knew.  You couldn’t get enough of the Word of God.  I mean you would read for hours and hours on end, to the point you lost track of time.  You really have no idea how Jesus enjoyed those times.  He wants those times with you again and you need those times again, like a fish needs water.
  2. Repent – Be willing to stop doing something that has already taken it’s toll on you and has seriously damaged your relationship with Jesus.  This will take some courage…remember how passionate Martha was that Mary leave the feet of Jesus to work in the next church auxiliary?  If you simply repent and stop for a season, I promise you, the world will not fall off it’s axis because you have taken time away.
  3. Do the works you did at first – Do you remember how it was when you first met Jesus?  No matter what was going on, people could not tear you away from your new found love…Jesus.  Jesus really does understand that in order to do this, you will have to STOP DOING SOMETHING.  Most of us were just like Mary…THAT WAS YOU!!!  Dear one, please remember Jesus’ words to Martha…Mary has chosen that “GOOD PORTION“.

The word of God is clear, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is headed toward some very very very rough times; in preparation for Jesus’ return.  Beloved of God, please stop and consider whether you have chosen that good portion.

I recommend a short prayer to you…

Lord Jesus, please forgive me for letting things take the place of the relationship I once had with you.  By the power of your Holy Spirit, give me the courage to turn away from whatever is hindering our relationship and give me the wisdom to do it in a way that doesn’t bring shame to your name or wound one of your people.  I need to be refreshed Jesus, please guide me to the living water.