Today’s guest post is the final installment of four from my friend, Michael Mercer. Michael is the Senior Minister at the University Church of Christ in Conway, AR. He is married to the beautiful Leah Bivins Mercer and the couple have three children.
Every Sunday when I was a kid I would rumble from Bible class into our auditorium, find my mom, and then my seat. At that seat was a canvas book bag full of things that could keep me busy for the next hour and half. I would stand when the congregation stand and sing along. I would sit in full quietness, but purposefully distracted by my bag of goodies. While the preacher stomped, spoke loudly, then softly, and called out scripture after scripture after scripture, I drew, doodled, read, or help my mom’s hand in quiet submission. I didn’t mind church; in fact I enjoyed the serenity of the event. As I grew up into adolescence I left the book bag behind and participated fully, sometimes leading the singing for the church and then staring at the preacher while he spoke some of what I could understand and some of what I couldn’t fully grasp. I did my staring and even daydreaming in quiet submission. I wanted to impress my friends, my fellow members, and even the preacher. I was simply trying not to get blasted by my mom. When I grew up behaving well was the outward sign of a devotion to God and a respect to His church. We showed we were true Christians through attendance and attention…in quiet and well-behaved submission.
When I left for college I found that I was lacking in my spirituality because I didn’t have a “personal” relationship with Jesus. I began to show my true Christianity through private devotionals, meditative times, prayer times, solitude, and at church by showing my holiness. I tried to impress God with my private time with Him. I tried to impress the masses by my attention to the sermon, my hands lifted during worship, and my attendance. Oh and I behaved well too!
It seems once I began full-time ministry the tide of “True Christianity” had changed once again. In order to impress God and the church and now the world too we must spend our time in service in His name for the sake of others. So I went and took kids on mission trips, created service projects, and constantly give Matthew 25 as the devotional. It wasn’t superficial, but completely genuine. I desired to lead others to serve in the name of Jesus. The more people served the more impressive they would be to the world and to God.
Jesus was always a challenge for the disciples to figure out. Just when they thought they had Him figured out, he changed the rules. This was true of the 12 apostles and the many that were part of the following. Most of those that followed Jesus were never mentioned by name. However, there are a few that make the highlight reel and end up in our Bible. Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus were not only part of that few, but also carried the distinction of being Jesus’ friends.
Luke chapter 10 shares the story of Jesus being at the house of Mary and Martha. Martha is working feverously on preparations for her guests. She really wants to impress the house with her sense and devotion to hospitality. Her sister, Mary, is not only failing at hospitality, but is even breaking some norms of the time by being in the room at the feet of the rabbi, listening and learning. Martha has concerned herself with the trees that she is missing the forest that is in her living room. She has concerned herself with one aspect or detail of spiritual life; hospitality. Jesus simply reminds her that all of those details, while appreciated are unnecessary if the Father doesn’t come to your living room in the first place. Martha was trying to impress God through her service. Mary forgot about impressing God and became enraptured with His presence. Sometimes, we too get caught up in either this piece or that piece of being a disciple of Jesus. We focus too much on piety and forget to serve. We serve so much we won’t stop to smell the aroma of Jesus. We try too hard to impress God by being “God-like.”
Today, I really believe in a balance of these things. My church would say that I speak a lot or maybe even too much about helping those in need and standing up for the marginalized and oppressed. As far as our church’s vision goes we believe in spiritual formation, loving one another, and serving everyone for Christ. The goal is not to be impressive in these things, but to be genuine and obedient. God isn’t looking for our service to be something that takes us away from Him. Nor does God desire for our devotion to Him to keep us from His mission to the world. Mary and Martha and their story shines light that Christ is the center of our story. If we really want to impress God without really trying, we simply need to live a life in awe of God with eyes wide open. God is the center of the story that includes loving Him and loving our neighbors.
We really need to give up the act and quit trying so hard to impress God. Find encouragement in the fact that God wants our hearts and us. He is not impressed with our self-determined absorption to make possibilities out of impossibilities. He is not impressed with our addiction to perfection. He is not impressed with making Him a task or objective. He is not impressed with us saving others from their oppressed circumstances. God is impressed when we are empty of ourselves and we are faithful, when we follow, when we pray, and when we are attentive to Him and His mission.