by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

April, 2016
Wow! It’s time for my twenty second annual post-Easter meditation! This year, as we were preparing for Easter worship, I was struck by the number of things that all seemed to be happening at the same time, and all at the last minute. The praise band, of which I’m a grateful member, needed to rehearse but “the leftovers,” a proud Maplewood UMC Easter tradition, needed to rehearse at the same time, and the choir also needed to rehearse, again at about the same time. But poor Amy, our normally tolerant Music Director, was needed by all three groups and she couldn’t be in three places or play three songs at once, no matter how talented she is.

I’m sure you’ve had a boss or supervisor or teacher or even a parent who insisted that every task was vitally important and that each one needed to be done right now! I know I have. The standard response that I’ve often heard when I tried to explain that I’d be happy to do whatever it was as soon as I had time was “Make time.” Unfortunately, to me at least, it really doesn’t help to say “Make time” because “mak[ing] time” for something usually means ignoring something else. “Excuse me but you said a minute ago that this was the most important thing. Now, you want me to ignore it and do something else.” What do I choose to not do? Oddly, these are the same people who have no problem telling me “I’m busy.” But situations do change so I’ve never had the nerve to ask the question.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything,” (Phil. 4:5b-6a ESV). The Greek word “merimnaó,” translated “anxious” here and elsewhere, means “drawn in opposite directions” or “pulled apart.” In other words, don’t be distracted, maintain your focus. But it’s hard to focus on Christ, the one thing, the one person, who matters, if everything else matters just as much. When we’re anxious, it’s as if we were being pulled in more than one direction at once.

We’ve all heard or read about Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha. One evening, Jesus and the disciples stopped at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary “. . . sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.” (Luke 10:39b-40a ESV). Martha was being pulled in two different directions at once, the meal preparation and the teachings of Jesus. She was “distracted.” She was anxious. I confess that I’ve always been a Martha fan. I know what it’s like to be frustrated and overwhelmed. But I also understand when Jesus tells Martha, “‘Mary has chosen the good portion,’” (vs. 42b).

On the first Easter morning, the disciples were also being pulled in two directions. They wanted to believe in the resurrection but they had seen Jesus die on the cross. They wanted to believe but “reality” said something different than what Jesus had promised. Faith pulled them one way but the world pulled them another.

There are times when we want to believe too, but our “reality” says something different than what Jesus has promised. He told the people, “‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.’” (Matt. 6:24a ESV). He was talking about money but the same principle applies: We can cling to him or we can cling to the things of the world. In those times, when we’re being pulled in different directions, the hope we have in Christ can be our anchor (Heb.6:19).

When we’re being pulled in different directions, our response shows the state of our internal spiritual balance. If we’re trusting in God, we can preserve our equilibrium and maintain a steady course. I confess that this is difficult for me. I have trouble staying calm and not becoming frustrated or anxious. That’s probably why I understand Martha, because we come from similar perspectives. I also understand the earliest disciples, because my reality doesn’t always match the faith I claim. But we’re called to spiritual maturity, to be witnesses not merely to the things we can see and prove but to the things we can’t (Heb. 11:1).

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4-7 ESV.)

Copyright © 2016 by David Phelps