Where Does Your Anxiety Come From?

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Text: Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:41-42 ESV)

One of the things that makes me very proud as a father is that all three of my children love to serve others. They go about it with an earnest joy. But they also like to hold one another accountable to the workload—especially when doing chores around the house. If one is asked to do a certain project, they have this uncanny awareness of knowing precisely what their siblings might be doing at the same time. And if one seems to be lagging behind while the other is working strenuously, there will be no small grievance with management!

I can just see Martha now, stewing in the kitchen and getting all worked up about her sister slacking off on the preparations for dinner. Why doesn’t she get the importance of this moment? Martha must’ve thought. Jesus was a guest in their home for dinner and Martha wanted everything to be perfect. So she labored feverishly while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.

Have you ever worried irrationally over something and it bothered you that other family members didn’t seem phased by it? Maybe you had anxiety over something and your spouse didn’t, so you got upset with your spouse for not dancing with you in the whirlwind of neurosis. When we are bent out of shape, we want company—we want others to be bent out of shape with us.

This seems to be Martha. She did nothing wrong in working hard for Jesus—this is a noble thing for a Christ-follower. Her problem was that she became “distracted with much serving,” as one translation says. She was distracted from Jesus and became obsessed with doing for Jesus.

The Greek word here also carries the meaning of being anxious or troubled about many things. Jesus used this same word to warn his followers about “worrying” over their material needs (Matthew 6:25). It’s also the word Paul uses when he urges the Philippians to be “anxious” for nothing (Philippians 4:6).

The problem was that Martha wasn’t just making dinner preparations; she had become obsessed with trying to make everything perfect. This bred a troubled spirit in her—a state of anxiety.

It’s noteworthy that this story in the Bible comes right after the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The priest and the Levite who callously passed by the beaten man could’ve rationalized their humanitarian negligence by saying they were on their way to “worship” and “sit at the feet of God.” But it was the Good Samaritan who was commended for seeing and responding to the need in front of him.

twitter-64Anxiety is often the result of protecting a self-conscious image rather than resting our conscience in the thoughts of God. Tweet this

When we read the Bible as a whole, we see that joyfully serving the needs of others is at the heart of Jesus (Matthew 24:45–46). What seems to be the issue with Martha is that she was serving out of anxiety, not from grace. She had the Messiah under her roof and she was going to make everything perfect—or at least look that way.

This kind of anxiety can indeed be very subtle. It is self-serving at the root. It’s the desire for approval dressed up to look like the desire to serve. It has an image to protect. But Mary had chosen the “one thing necessary,” the “good portion.” In that moment, Mary was more captivated with Jesus than with her own self-image. She cared more about what Jesus was saying than what others thought of her, or her home. Jesus applauded what was in her heart.

Martha was graced to have Jesus’ gentle rebuke. It was an act of love to her and to us, reminding us that Jesus is asking: whom are we serving in our serving? This gentle rebuke will free us from the anxiety of serving out of a self-conscious image of what others think, and free us to be enthralled with Christ alone in all of our serving.

For further study: Matthew 6:1-30, Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7-8

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Which attributes in your children make you very proud as a parent? Share your thoughts with them.
  2. What causes anxiety in you? Ask your children the same question.
  3. When have you most recently resembled the hurried, frantic, nervousness of Martha? Can you identify the root of that troubled spirit?
  4. Jesus is more concerned with our growth in grace than He is with insulating our feelings. Martha must’ve felt a little embarrassed by His gentle rebuke. When have you ever experienced His gentle rebuke in a way similar to that of Martha?
  5. When you are serving others, how can you do it with more consciousness of Jesus and less consciousness of yourself, or your own image?

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