The Air We Breathe

Martha and Mary

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

The final verses of Luke 10 are interesting for many reasons. Literally, Martha is serving the Lord. She’s preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples. There’s no doubt they’re hungry and need to eat. So, Martha’s cause is a worthy one. Frustrated that her sister isn’t helping her, Martha turns to Jesus. Surely, she feels he’ll agree that lazy Mary should be helping, after all, especially in ancient times – a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

However, Jesus surprises with his response – he informs Martha that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet to listen to his word is superior to her service in the kitchen!

As Christians, this narrative can teach us a lesson today. Often times, we’re fussing about like Martha. Life is full of obligations and problems, so most days are a blur of obligations and responsibility.

It’s easy to get caught up in a functional “get-it-done” mode. I’m guilty of this almost everyday as I return home from work and my thought immediately turn to the next set of tasks that need accomplished. At times, we can even force Christian ministry onto the checklist of chores. We’re rushing from one meeting to the next; some are even juggling multiple ministries. Personally, in busy situations like these, I feel too busy to pray! If we’re caught up in the kitchen like Martha – too busy serving to come out, sit at the feet of Jesus, and listen to the word of God, according to Jesus, our priorities are out of order.

Of course we should serve. Christian ministry is natural for all Christ followers. But our focus should be on the Lord himself, not the task at hand.

Easy Ministry

Jesus makes the astonishing claim in Matthew 11:30 that [his] yoke is easy and [his] burden is light.

The problem is, the burden of Christian ministry usually feels like, well, a burden! If we’re discouraged, despairing, or feeling overwhelmed as Christians, it probably means there is a great deal of prayerlessness in our lives. I know this to be true for myself.

Triumph, joy, and victory should mark the Christian life. The disciples saw this kind of life lived out by Christ. They were constantly amazed by his teaching and miracles.

A Prayer Connection

After they had spent significant time with Jesus, it was clear that his prayer life was directly connected to his amazing power.

The disciples saw that Christ didn’t do anything without prayer. Despite a hectic ministry and a life of continuous interruption, Jesus always found time to pray. Whether he was healing, breaking bread, or at the tomb of Lazarus, he was praying. Christ even fled from expectant crowds gathered to hear him teach to pray. It seems as though Jesus’ immediate response to every situation was prayer.

Prayer - A cry for help for the helpless.
A cry for help.

For Christ, prayer was a necessity. It was the attitude and atmosphere in which he lived and the very air he breathed. Literally, Jesus prayed without ceasing.

Watching Jesus, it was also clear to the disciples that their prayer was lacking. So they asked him about it and the event was recorded in Luke 11:

…while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”

At the heart of the unnamed disciple’s request was the brutally honest confession he didn’t know how to pray. If we’re experiencing despair and confusion in our lives, maybe we’re in the same situation. When we cry out to the Lord like this disciple in needy prayer, God is ready and eager to respond.

Jesus gives the disciples an example of prayer in verses 2-4:

And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Sadly, Jesus’ example of how to pray has lost almost all meaning, as it is now mindlessly repeated in religious attempts – the very thing Jesus cautioned against in a passage that parallels Luke 11, Matthew 6:7 – “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition”.

Biblically, Christian prayer isn’t an attempt to twist God’s arm into getting him to do favors for us, instead it is an act of communication between two personal beings.

First, as Luke recants, Jesus teaches us to address God as “Father”. We’re to come to God in prayer as a child would come to their own father, in an ideal sense, approaching him with dependence and submission.

In prayer, we’re not dealing with some regular Dad come home from work eager to put his feet up on the ottoman, we’re communicating to the omniscient and omnipresent creator of the universe! It’s amazing and humbling that God is even willing to listen!

“Hallowed” is a churchy translation that means God is set apart and distinct, in a category entirely his own. Just as we approach God as a father, we recognize his hallowed nature. Coming before the almighty God of the universe, only one response is appropriate – praise!

Often times we come to God in prayer with a laundry list of problems and complaints. Listing them off can have the opposite effect from what we intend – ending up feeling even more self-consumed and overwhelmed. However, when we begin our interaction in prayer with God by focusing on him and his greatness, it just the opposite effect! I’ve found when I start my prayers with gratitude; I find that the same people I’m having issues and problems with instantly become more reasons to be thankful to God.

Jesus goes on to pray “your kingdom come”. Not only do we pray that the rest of the world be reconciled to Christ, but Christ’s prayer is one of availability. Your kingdom come and your will be done (as Matthew 6:10 adds), means we’re willing to be used by God in any way to see his kingdom expand.

An Issue of Dependence

This was the secret of Jesus’ prayer – he expected that the Father would be working through him! He believed what he preached, that “the Son can do nothing by himself”. Christ wasn’t just saying these words, he meant them. A perfect man, he fulfilled God’s expectations perfectly while on earth. Yet, how much of his own power did he contribute to the power, spiritual might, and wisdom on display throughout his own ministry?

Nothing! That meant he had a great need for God to accomplish it. Out of this need came his attitude of prayer and dependence on God.

Everything Jesus did flowed from his reliance on God. If the Son of Man needed desperately to lean on the Father in prayer, how much more do we? While Jesus is a difficult act to follow, prayer with God is not about measuring up to his standard. We should model his attitude and outlook, an issue of the heart, that the Father who dwells in us will accomplish unimaginable things through us.

We usually pray when there’s an emergency or a huge problem. It’s a last ditch effort when we’re really “up against it” and we only turn to God if there are no other options. Jesus, however, is the best example that demonstrates to accomplish God’s will, or in other words, to have a real and lasting effect in whatever we’re doing, we must rely on God with the expectation that he needs to be the one supplying the power.

I’m the last person that should be writing about prayer. My prayer life is pathetic – too often I’m too busy or too forgetful to pray. Most of the time, I feel that I’m adequate enough to get things done – I don’t need to bring God in as a consultant.

Why do we struggle with prayer like this? Why are we suddenly busy when the prayer meeting is about to start? Unlike Jesus, we feel like we’re not needy and we have everything under control. However, the reality is this is a delusion! The only time life is truly under control is when we have Jesus’ attitude of continual need and constant expectation that God must be the one to work and accomplish in every situation.

It is as simple as trying to give away a meal to person who has just finished eating versus offering a meal to a hungry teenage boy. When we feel full and sufficient, we have no need for prayer. However, when we’re hungry it comes as naturally as eating a sandwich when you’re starving.

Prayer came naturally for Jesus because of his needy attitude. But, for most prayer will have to be learned. It’s personal and real communication with the creator God. Start learning to pray by discovering who God is. Pray like the unnamed disciple in Luke 11 – ask God to teach you how to pray. It may feel foolish at first. If you don’t know God personally, it could even begin with a prayer to God asking him to show you that he’s real. It began that way for me.

Note: Portions of this article were adapted from sermons on Luke 11 by Dennis McCallum and Ray Stedman.

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