The Better Portion
To say that the past two months have been strange would be an understatement. All of us are experiencing a new normal, and I’m sure that has manifested itself in lots of different ways for you and your family. Who would have ever thought they would become a homeschool teacher in the middle of the year? Who would’ve expected to run a daycare out of their home office or have a toddler join them on a meeting? When was the last time you weren’t at church on Easter? These days are unprecedented for all of us. Undoubtedly, everyone is handling the days at home a little differently and has missed some things more than others. For me, church has been what I have missed the most while our state has stayed and sheltered at home since the middle of March.
The church has been one of my most constant sources of joy and normality for my whole life. The Lord saved me at a young age and gave me a love for His church that grew under the care of some great men who did their best to point me toward loving God and my neighbor. I was a freshman in high school when I first felt God calling me to ministry. I’ve been on staff at a church more often than not since I was seventeen. I love the church, and I have grown to love doing things for the church. Sundays don’t feel normal unless I’m preparing for a service at CFC or traveling to speak on behalf of the Baptist Children’s Homes, where I work in church engagement. While we all can agree that loving the church and regularly participating in church activities are good things, they can be problematic when we equate those for spiritual health and growth. God, in His grace, used my watching our church’s simulcast from home to make me realize that I had fallen into that trap of the enemy.
The first Sunday of shelter at home was a bit of a wakeup call for me. I found myself extremely discouraged, but for quite a while I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way. After some time, I started realizing that I didn’t feel like myself because in my mind I wasn’t doing all that I should be. I felt tired, discouraged, and, frankly, useless. I felt that way because I wasn’t able to participate in something that I felt made me who I am. It was at that time I began to realize that I was wrongly putting my identity in what I did. It is easy to base our worth, value, and who we are in what we do. Instead, we need to remember that those things are found in who God has made us to be in Christ. We are a new creation. We are members of a kingdom of priests. We are His ambassadors in this world. We are His agents of reconciliation.
When we recognize that our identity is in belonging to Christ and not in what we do for Him, we are free to take our focus off ourselves and begin to look to Him and to other people. This dynamic is especially tempting to those of us who are the most “bought in”; or in other words, it can be easy for those of us who do more things around church to equate those with spiritual health. While doing things to serve the church and to help others are good things, it becomes problematic when we elevate those actions to a status reserved in our hearts for Christ alone.
There’s a story in the Bible that speaks to this dynamic. It’s a story of two sisters who were hosting Jesus in their home. In this familiar story, recorded in Luke 10:38-42, one sister sits and listens to Jesus while the other does all the work necessary to host the scores of people who would be coming to their home to hear Jesus teach. Martha, the sister who did all the work, came to Jesus hoping to enlist His help in prodding her sister, Mary, to pull her weight. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus commends Mary instead. In His love for Martha, He tells her that Mary chose the better portion. Mary chose to prioritize the primary task for which she was created: to worship and enjoy God. Martha didn’t choose something bad; she merely did not choose what was best. Is this not the essence of idolatry? To elevate good things to a place reserved for God alone. Those things won’t satisfy in and of themselves. They will only lead to self-reliance when we think we are doing a good job, discouragement when we don’t feel that we are measuring up, or burnout when our energy is gone.
Instead of attempting to find joy in our own efforts, our Lord offers all of us who are burdened to come to Him for true rest and lasting joy. Throughout this process, I have had to confess multiple times that I have succumbed to the temptation to place my worth in what I do for Jesus instead of who I am in Jesus. If these times of staying at home and being unable to participate in our normal routine have brought similar feelings to the surface of your heart, I encourage you to fight the temptation to make excuses or to attempt to suppress those feelings of conviction. Instead, run to Jesus and, like Mary, sit at His feet. Listen to Him. Reflect on the truth of the gospel and repent of your sin. He has paid the price of our redemption and forgiven us of all of our sins, even sins of misplaced identity. The gospel is truly good news.
While I hope this season of being unable to gather as a church comes to an end in the near future, I hope that the Lord never lets me forget the hard lessons that I have learned while watching church on my couch. If I were never able to participate in another church service again, His global church and our local church would go on just fine. He doesn’t need me, and that is okay. I hope that all of us can emerge from our time in quarantine closer to Christ than when we entered it. I especially hope that any of us who have learned hard lessons during this time would never forget what the Lord taught us during this unique season of slower schedules and greater time for reflection.
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