Martha would be firing on all cylinders at Christmas. Beginning with a Black Friday marathon, she’d probably be a whirling dervish of baking Christmas cookies, hanging stockings, stringing lights, and dressing the family dog like Santa. Her house would be a cacophony of lights and lawn ornaments.

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)

Martha was serving her guts out. She was doing a good thing–she was serving Jesus. She wanted him and her guests to enjoy themselves. She wanted to bless them. She wanted them to enjoy their challah and gefilte fish, bagels and lox and matzah ball soup and dishes of knish she’d prepared.

But Martha was “distracted.” She was distracted by “much serving.” Martha was serving like a madwoman. But she was unable to focus on Jesus or concentrate on his words. She was probably catching some, but unable to think about what he was saying or reflect on it. “I heard him saying something about a lost sheep,” she said. “But who has time for stories? I got blintzes in the frying pan.”

Martha may have been joyful initially, but now she’s getting annoyed at her sister. She keeps glancing at Mary, hoping to catch her eye and motion for her to get in here and help. But Martha’s enamored with Jesus. Ahhhh this lazy sister of mine! Martha thinks. Now Martha is serving, but not joyfully.

Jesus said Martha’s problem was deeper than mere distraction about getting the meal on the table–she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” The cares of this life regularly choked out Mary’s joy and God’s word in her life.

In Martha’s eyes, Mary was being lazy and selfish. She wasn’t helping with all that needed to be done. Jesus said “one thing is necessary.” It is “the good portion.” What is this good portion? Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” She was focused on Jesus and his word. She was undistracted in her devotion to Jesus. She was simply putting Jesus first. Her relationship with Jesus, getting to know him, and meditating on his teaching was her priority.

We too can be distracted, anxious, and troubled about many things. I talked to a friend recently whose stress on the job feels like a tsunami breaking over him. Another friend is battling cancer, which is not only incredibly miserable for him, but painful, sad, and distressing for his wife. Another woman’s husband has early onset dementia. I know a number of families who live paycheck to paycheck. Most of us know someone who struggles with the fury of depression or who has a sick child.

These are major temptations to anxiety and fear. Serious distractions. Now add to all this the additional distractions and stressers the Christmas season presents–presents to buy and wrap, getting a tree, decorating, family gatherings, travel; then there’s the gift wrap outreach and the food collection and the Christmas Eve outreach with the live camels. Ok, most of us don’t have to worry about live camels, but you get what I mean. And if aunt Mary and aunt Jean come to our Christmas meal it’s going to be tense, and who knows if Joe is even going to come… you get the idea.

Only one thing is necessary.

To sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen to his word. To rest in him.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3).

To avoid the Whirling Dervish Syndrome this Christmas, as hard as it is to do, we must seek to stay our minds on Jesus and trust in him. Don’t neglect to take time in God’s word and to pray this Christmas season. Put that first. Make that top priority. A little time every day in God’s word. Carve out a time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his voice.


Mark Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.