Thursday, January 16, 2020

Doing and Listening – Striking the Delicate Balance

There are all kinds of people in this world: Tall, short and somewhere in between; skinny and uh, not so skinny; of various colors and hues, ethnicities, interests and beliefs; loud and quiet; and, it seems, an ever-increasing number of other classifications.

But two primary groups span all of the other differences – those who do things and get things done, and those who spend most of their time talking about what should be done or what they intend to do.

In the Bible, we find those two distinctive types depicted vividly. For instance, we see the “Proverbs 31 woman,” an incredibly industrious person. Starting with the 10th verse in the last chapter of Proverbs, this woman is described as, “a wife of noble character…worth far more than rubies.” 

Over the next 21 verses, the passage proceeds to list her activities and accomplishments. She “selects wool and flax…works with eager hands…. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.She considers a field and buys it…plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously…sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night…. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” It says everyone in her household is “clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed, she is clothed in fine linen and purple.” Whew!

More is said about this woman, possibly a specific individual or maybe a composite of what a godly, hard-working, determined person should be like. Entire books have been written about “Mrs. Proverbs 31” and her virtuous traits. But the passage then contrasts this woman with her spouse: “Her husband…respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23). 

I wouldn’t say my wife and I match the two types perfectly – not hardly – but she’s a lot like “#31,” while I’m like the elders at the gate, sitting around, talking with great intensity, seeking to solve the problems of the world. While guys like this expend copious amounts of words, perhaps accomplishing little, the gals say in essence, “Enough of the talking already. Let’s do something.”

We see another example in the Scriptures of “do vs. talk about doing” personalities. Luke 10:38-41 introduces us to two sisters, Mary and Martha, during an impromptu visit they receive from Jesus. Mary, it says, sits at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He has to say. “Busy bee” Martha, however, becomes “distracted by all the preparations that made to be made.” 

Finally, in frustration Martha goes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” In other words, she’s saying, “What’s up with this? While Mary’s chilling, absorbing Your pearls of wisdom, Lord, somebody’s got to make sure everyone has a nice hot meal. Help!”

Who can blame her? Think back to Mrs. Proverbs 31, who knew something had to get done. Rather than sitting around trying to figure out who should be doing it, she went ahead and did it. That fit Martha to a T. And Ecclesiastes 4:9 does say, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.”

But then Jesus has a strange response. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41). That’s it. End of story. If Martha has a comeback in this little conversation, the Bible doesn’t enlighten us on what she says.

So, what are we to make of all this? Seems to me the Scriptures are telling us there is a place for both types – at the proper time. In the business world, we find executives who plan meetings to discuss future meetings. In politics, we see many elected officials who wax eloquent with words, but aren't so abundant with their deeds. When all is said and done, they’ve said a whole lot more than they’ve done.

But as we read in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Just as we can err in devoting too much time to talking and listening, and not enough to working to accomplish things, other times we need to hit the “Pause” button, to “cease striving” as Psalm 46:10 says, and just listen, think and meditate. 

Especially when it comes to discerning what God is telling us and what He wants us to be doing. In its entirety, Psalm 46:10 says, “Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Other translations put it, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We may be well-intended, but we can become so busy try to do for God that we impede what He wants to do in us and through us – all for His glory. 

We need to remember, He created and sustains the universe. The Lord doesn’t need our help. But He graciously allows us to participate in His work. The question for us is, “What is the work God has for us to participate in?” There’s a time to be a Martha. But there’s also a time for being a Mary. Our challenge is to have the wisdom, as Jesus said, to choose which is better for the moment.

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