Choosing the Good Portion

Hello, my name is Megan Johnson and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

There, I said it.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a deep desire to do things well.  Okay, not just well.  To do things the absolute best I can.

In one sense, I love this aspect of my personality because it drives me to excellence.  I have a hard time tolerating half-hearted or ho-hum.  It makes me work hard and not want to settle.

On the other hand, it has caused me to struggle with pride, control, people-pleasing, stress, and an inadequate understanding of grace.  I don’t want to fail and I really used to beat myself up when I did.  Thankfully, God has been so good in gently reshaping me and teaching me to let go and let myself get wrapped up in what is truly good.

Showing me my inadequacy in contrast to His perfect strength.

The ugliness of my sin compared to His righteousness.

My striving to measure up in contrast to His grace.

And there’s nothing quite like motherhood to reinforce this need to lighten up.

In a culture where it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and beat yourself for not measuring up, I so often need reminders of God’s grace.  As much as I desire to be the “perfect” mom and Pastor’s wife – complete with a Pintrest worthy home and dinner table, obedient and delightful children, hours of outside ministry, orderly and abundant finances, and an always showered, sweatpants-free appearance – I so often fall drastically short of perfection and there’s just not enough hours in the day.

Though I took piano lessons for 7 years through elementary and middle school and although we have a piano in our home, it’s not often that I get a chance to actually sit down and play anymore.  And I. am. rusty.  I feel a little confident when I play songs that I’ve been playing for years, but hand me a challenging new one and the familiar tune may be completely unrecognizable.

One evening, while the boys were playing, I decided to pick up the sheet music that I had recently purchased and decided to give it a try.  Unfortunately the first 2 pages that I was able to preview before buying it were, in fact, the only pages that were free of loads of sharps, flats, and key changes.  I had certainly bitten off more than I could chew and was confident that my fumbling around wouldn’t have sounded much worse if my 1 year old was pounding on the keys alongside me.  Let’s just say I decided I wouldn’t be playing it for an audience any time soon.

To my surprise, however, Isaiah came into the living room when I finished and said,

“Mom, I wish you could play the piano all day because it sounds so good.”

This was coming from the same boy that also told me that week,

“You make me wanna hug you all day long when you wear your hair like that, Mommy.”

I almost chuckled.  The hair thing was a little more understandable.  I must have showered that day.  But the piano?  He must not have heard the same thing I did.

And before a laugh could come out of my lips, the Holy Spirit reminded me that, perhaps, he did…and so did my Father.

Sure I had made mistakes and the notes weren’t perfect.  My piano was terribly out of tune and the song was choppy.  As hard as I tried, it was difficult for me to sing along and often the lyric got sacrificed in order to play the correct note…and vice versa.

But that’s not what Isaiah heard.  He heard his Mama’s voice and the heart behind it.  And he heard me trying.  He heard the music that I failed to hear.

And I had to whisper a prayer of gratitude for God’s grace that does the same.

Last week I studied and wrote about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The next day I was reminded of the significance of the the story that comes directly after.  Sandwiched between Jesus’ call to love your neighbor and His instructions on how to pray are 5 verses with tremendous implication on how to adequately do both.

Sisters, Mary and Martha, welcome Jesus into their home .  Mary plops herself down at Jesus’ feet while Martha is busy trying to be the perfect hostess.  Sure she didn’t have Pintrest to live up to, but Luke 10:40 says that she was “distracted with much serving”.

In her study on this passage, Beth Moore writes…

“It was the hands of the house (Martha) that invited Jesus in.  Otherwise, Mary wouldn’t have had a set of feet at which to sit nor would Lazarus have had a friend with which to recline.  Martha’s hospitality brought Him there.  If only Martha had understood that Christ wanted her heart more than He wanted her home.”

My responsibilities to do my best to take care of my home, my ministries, and my family are very important.  But what is it that Jesus sees as most important?  What He really wants me most?  An undistracted heart.

“Her excessive zeal for temporal provisions made her forget, for a time, the things of her soul.”

– J.C. Ryle

The Greek word for distracted in verse 40 is perispao, which Blue Letter Bible defines as “to draw away; to be driven about mentally; to be over-occupied, too busy, about a thing.”  

And what was drawing her away?  Occupying her mind?

But Martha was distracted with much serving… (vs. 40)

I’m sure she was concerned about the tidiness of her house, the taste and nutrition of her food, and the comfort of her guests.  None of which are bad things.  They are good things.  But are they the best?

“It is not open sin, or fragrant breaches of God’s commandments alone, which lead men to eternal ruin.  It is far more frequently an excessive attention to things in themselves lawful, and the being ‘cumbered about much serving.’ It seems so right to provide for our own!  It seems so proper to attend to the duties of our station!  It is just here that our danger lies.  Our families, our business, our daily callings, our household affairs, our intercourse with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts, and may draw us away from God…”

– J.C. Ryle

I’m convicted that my desire for excellence in even the good and important areas of my life become sin if they distract my heart from what is best.  I can occupy my thoughts and time and energy with taking care of my home and researching good nutrition for my kids and cutting coupons and discipling girls and planning church events and writing blogs so much so that they push out my time, energy, desire and availability to really listen to Jesus.

“Let us mentally write ‘poison’ on all temporal good things.  Used in moderation they are blessings, for which we ought to be thankful.  Permitted to fill our minds, and trample upon holy things, they become a positive curse.  Profits and pleasures are dearly purchased, if in order to obtain them we thrust aside eternity from our thoughts, abridge our Bible-reading, become careless hearers of the Gospel, and shorten our prayers.  A little earth upon the fire within us will soon make that fire burn low.”

– J.C. Ryle

My seemingly innocent obsession with “good” things may squelch my obsession with and passion for Jesus.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but this one thing is necessary…” (vs. 41-42)

I love that Jesus repeats her name here.  I can almost hear the tenderness and love in His voice.  I picture Him maybe shaking his head a little and grabbed her hand when He said it.  When I read it, I don’t hear so much a harsh rebuke, but rather the kind wounds from a friend (Proverbs 27:6).  A friend that could have just complimented her outward hospitality, but instead addressed the issues of her distracted heart.  He loved her and appreciated the things she was doing…but He didn’t want her to miss the really good stuff.

“Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.” (vs. 42)

And what is this portion?  What truly is good?

“…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

– Psalm 73:26

Her most beautiful dwelling?

Her most delicious meal?

Her most intimate love?

Her greatest act of service?

Him.  

Jesus.

Period.

Abiding in Him.

Tasting of Him.

Fellowshipping with Him.

Worshipping before Him.

My service is important.  If it wasn’t, Luke wouldn’t have included Jesus’ story of the service of the Good Samaritan.  But by providing us with this snapshot into Mary and Martha’s home next, he reminds us of what Jesus says is most important…and that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength comes before we can really love our neighbor well (Luke 10:27).

In our struggle for how to prioritize the hours of our lives, many good things fight for the top of the list…but only ‘one thing is necessary.’  (And is it a coincidence that the following passage emphasizes how to pray and commune with our Father?)  In order to do the other things well, it’s imperative that we, like Mary, make the right choice.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet and soaking in His grace and falling deeper in love with Him.

“The remainder of the definition (of the Greek word for ‘chosen’) reads:  ‘not necessarily implying the rejection of what is not chosen, but giving favor to the chosen subject, keeping in view a relationship to be established between the one choosing and the object chosen.  It involves preference and selection among many choices.'”

– Beth Moore

So I won’t stop cleaning my house or cooking nutritious meals for my kids or helping my husband or ministering at our Church or serving those in need around me.  But I realize, more than ever, that the most productive times of my days are those quiet moments of stillness on my living room couch with my coffee cup in one hand and my Bible in the other.

Somehow being good at the sitting and listening makes me better at the getting up and going.

And I want to choose the good portion…even if that means my house is a mess, I have to cancel meetings, and we have boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Trusting that, like Isaiah, in the midst of the botched notes and unfinished lines, God hears beauty in the song of my heart…all because it’s full of Him.

“I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.  I have no good besides You.’

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

I have set the Lord continually before me…”

– Psalm 16:2,5, and 8

The true Christian’s portion is the grace of God.  This is the ‘good part’ which he has chosen,  and it is the only portion which really deserves the name of ‘good.’  It is the only good thing which is substantial, satisfying, real, and lasting.  It is good in sickness and good in health, – good in youth and good in age, – good in adversity and good in prosperity, – good in life and good in death, – good in time and good in eternity.  No circumstance and no position can be imagined in which it is not good for a man to have the grace of God.”

– J.C. Ryle

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