wooden table set for fancy dinner with eucalyptus and candle centrepiece

Dutiful Drudgery vs. Delightful Devotion

My mom, Mary, and Martha show us that when we love to serve so much that we fail to connect with the One we serve, we're missing out on the most important part.

When you arrive at my parents’ house as a guest, they’ll swing the door wide open, greet you with a grin, and exuberantly declare how wonderful it is to see you. After enveloping you in a warm embrace, food will be abundant and delicious, even if your visit was unexpected. If you stay overnight, you’ll find the guest room staged with fresh flowers on the nightstand, fresh sheets on the bed, and likely a new magazine to help you unwind before nestling into the fluffy blankets for the most peaceful sleep you’ve had in ages.

One of the things that makes it such a joy to be a guest of my parents is that even if it’s an evening of extravagance, the atmosphere is one of complete and utter calm. Mom’s a master at getting the busywork out of the way before the guests arrive so that she can just enjoy their company. 

Sometimes when I offer to help her clean up after the meal, she says, “Let’s just leave it. I can deal with it later. Right now, I just want to visit with you.” If that doesn’t make a person feel loved and welcome, I don’t know what does!

My mom reminds me of Mary and Martha. In Luke 10:38–42, we read about these two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home. Mary sat at Jesus’s feet, soaking up every moment in His presence and listening intently to everything He said. “But Martha was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). Frustrated by her sister’s inactivity, Martha boldly told Jesus to command Mary to help her.

Jesus told Martha that only one thing was needed: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42, NIV). Mary chose relationship over refreshments, friendship over food, and listening over lording. She recognized that her relationship with Jesus was more valuable than anything else. What she received in her intimacy with Him could never be taken away from her—not even busyness, a bossy sister, or big dinner obligations. 

Martha never met my mom. It’s too bad. She could’ve learned a thing or two. 

In all honesty, most of us could, right? We tend to have high expectations of what serving Jesus should look like. We want to get everything just right, so we busy ourselves with so much activity—volunteering at church, attempting to create Instagram-worthy homes, trying to parent perfectly, attending conferences, and consuming more Christian books and podcasts in our efforts to learn more, be more, and do more. And yet we feel it’s never enough. If we’re not careful, our desire to serve Him turns from delighted devotion to dutiful drudgery. No one wants that! So how do we serve Jesus well? What does He want from us? 

Above all our sacrifice and service, Jesus wants our hearts. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we love Him. When we genuinely love Him, we automatically glorify Him. It’s not dutiful drudgery at all! It’s a delighted devotion. 

Sometimes we need to leave the dishes in the sink till later so we can sit in His presence, open our Bible, and listen to Him speak. Maybe we clear a few commitments off the calendar so we can enjoy some unhurried time admiring His handiwork in nature or delighting in the company of Christian friends. Instead of adding to our to-do list, maybe our relationship with Jesus would benefit from a time of simple worship in the privacy of our own home. 

Friends, let’s not get caught up in doing for Jesus so much that we forget to delight in Jesus. Yes, we want to serve Him, but as we do so, let’s remember the example of my mom. Let’s keep our eyes on enjoying the One we serve instead of focusing only on our service.

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6 Responses

  1. I love this article and desire to be more like your mom, however, I was feeling the frustration last Saturday when all our adult kids and grandkids were here. I try to get all the food prepared before they come, but we live on a lake and just so much work to get tables set up and lake stuff out. I’m grateful kids all helped with clean up and then we sat around the fire. I realize this is more of a heart posture, and I continue to pray and trust if I don’t give up, as time goes on, I will continue to grow. Thanks for this great blog post!

    1. Godly hospitality doesn’t look the same in every home and for every event. It’s about making your guests feel welcome and loved. In some situations, the best way to do that is to enlist their help, just like you did on Saturday, Tammy. I’ve experienced that kind of hospitality, too, and I learned so much from it. It’s about enjoying the relationship, right? Bless you for opening your home to all those people you love! And bless you for taking the time to leave a comment today. You’ve encouraged me!

  2. Oh how I reflect and hold so dear the godly hospitality of you and your mom! You loved me the exact way I needed when far from home. Thank you both!

    I struggle to keep this Mary/Martha balance myself yet maybe it’s not a balance at all? I love to host and serve yet when I don’t get that helping hand, I become discouraged. I often get upset when I see people connecting while I busy myself with all the tasks I see before me. Thank you for the reminder of what’s most important. It’s going to take some prayer and practice to change some old habits and thoughts. I appreciate the reminder to leave the dishes and enjoy some time with our Lord first!

    1. You’re so sweet, Laura. I have such fond memories of having you over!

      I think our attempts at achieving balance are often futile. When we spend time at the feet of Jesus, I think the effects of that relationship permeate everything else we do. I don’t think we need to separate the “Mary” parts from the “Martha” parts.

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