(Please Note: The Unsubscribe option has been restored to the bottom of the emailed version of these blog posts.)
Jo and I were in our sixth year of missionary service in Brazil when some Canadian friends came to help us build a house on the Bible translation centre in Belem. Although we loved and appreciated each other and worked well together, they were a bit critical of how we, and the other Bible translators, used our spare time.
“Instead of doing fun things like visiting with other missionaries or spending Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with your kids,” they said, “shouldn’t you be making friends with the poor people living in the slum down the road, and evangelizing them?”
Our friends loved meeting needs of the poor back home, so we understood their concern and wanted to give a good answer. Fortunately, Jesus Himself addressed a similar question over two-thousand years before. The story is told by Luke. (10:38-42)
“Jesus and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”
The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”
For us, the Canela Bible translation program was the “one necessary thing.” We knew we still had at least fifteen years of work ahead of us before we could present the Canelas with a copy of the Word of God in their own language. Jo and I were the only people in the world assigned to build a literate society, and translate the Bible for the Canelas. For us, everything else, even evangelizing desperately needy slum dwellers was secondary. There were other Christians, tens of thousands of them in greater Belem, who could evangelize the slums, and many did.
But what about Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with the kids? Consider that these children routinely lived in a boarding school for three or more months at a time. When parents finally returned to the centre, they naturally wanted to spend as much time together as a family as possible. Quality family time was the “one necessary thing” for all of us. And visiting with other missionaries? Well, after three months of praying and sharing on a deep level only with your spouse, the joy of spending time with other believers is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.
We all need to heed the wise words of Jesus, “only one thing is necessary” when we are overwhelmed with long To Do lists. In Mary and Martha’s situation, Jesus was sitting in their home and teaching those around him. Mary dropped her To Do list and grabbed the unique opportunity to learn personally from Jesus.
Our natural tendency is to be like Martha and do things right, such as living up to cultural expectations by preparing plentiful food for guests. But what is necessary is doing the right thing not doing things right. The right thing is always to do the “one necessary thing.”
Each day, in every situation we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what is the “one necessary thing” that only I can do?” Then do it.