Thursday, 18 October 2012

Martha’s Table: The Danger of Service

There are so many different aspects of Christian service, but I'm going to focus on one of the most dangerous ones. If you've read my book review on Emily Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl,  you know that many of us suffer from a try-hard way of living. I know from personal experience that this attitude can be explosive when combined with acts of service, and can potentially wreck your relationship with God.

We all start with the best of intentions.

After all, who doesn't want to help others? We’re good Christian girls, we’re supposed to be doing good works.  James did say that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  But sometimes we take this concept one step further.
Feast by NorthwestNomad
Feast, a photo by NorthwestNomad on Flickr.

Let’s look at Martha. Poor girl, she’s always used as a bad example, isn't she? She had great intentions: she was welcoming the Lord into her home and was preparing to lay out the best spread possible. Imagine it—Martha has brought out the best dishes, decorated the table with matching candlesticks and napkin holders, a beautiful centerpiece…and there’s Mary sitting in the corner, listening to Jesus and twiddling her thumbs. I can easily imagine Martha’s annoyance. Don’t we all bristle a bit at those people who are “so Heavenly-minded they’re no earthly good”?  But Jesus said, “Martha. Martha.”

Martha was depending on herself to feed the people. She felt personally responsible, just like we often do. 

When there’s work that needs to be done—a ministry, fundraiser, service project, etc.—who is going to do it? The good Christian girls. It’s a demonstration of our love for God, right? Sometimes, but often it’s actually an outgrowth of Martha’s self-dependent attitude. When Emily Freeman writes on this subject she uses the example of a true servant, Mary the mother of Jesus, who listened to God and trusted in Him—she didn't run off to do a great work of service. “Worship, not work, flows out of the hearts of those who believe.” 

That’s what all of this comes down to. Trust. We have to choose whether we are going to spend our lives trying to please God, or trusting Him. And we have to choose one or the other. Choosing to please God sounds great, but it can lead to a life of performance and self-reliance. It’s difficult to trust if we’re constantly performing, but how can we help pleasing God if we put our trust in Him? Do we truly believe that God loves us the same no matter how many good works we do, or do we have to perform for His acceptance?

Even service can become an idol. Jesus didn't say, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you work.” Jesus doesn't want your service, He wants you. Of course we should still serve God and others, but not out of obligation, self-righteousness, or guilt. We are accepted, we are already amazing in Christ. As Emily says, we have “permission to sit down on the inside and live like (we) have a God who knows what he’s doing.” We are free to serve out of love, and love alone. 

You have grace. Take a break from setting the table and take time to trust the Lord. Accept His invitation to rest and intimacy—to a life beyond trying hard to please Him

Jesus chided Martha for her “many things” (Luke 10:41). What are your many things?

- This post was inspired by chapter 5 of Grace for the Good Girl. Buy it now on


  1. Oh snap! This is exactly what I wrestle with many times. By nature I am a people pleaser and I love to help in any way I can.

    But God has been showing me that I really have to balance my desire to help others and serve Him with peace and a quiet heart.

    It can be so hard to be a Mary sometimes. I think it runs against our grain as women in many circumstances. And God has also been showing me that wanting to help and serve can be a pride issue.

    Thank you or this post. Very timely for me and definitely important to focus on.

    1. It goes right to my heart too, Sincerity! You're right--it definitely runs against our grain. We love to step in there and take care of things ourselves, and most of the time we can pretend that it's all out of love...but pride is definitely involved. This is a major issue that I'm working on right now.

      Keep fighting the good fight :)


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