Faith Like Abel’s

In the stars His handiwork I see, 

On the wind He speaks with majesty, 

Though He ruleth over land and sea, What is that to me? 

I will celebrate Nativity, 

For it has a place in history, 

Sure, He came to set His people free, What is that to me? 

Till by faith I met Him face to face, 

and I felt the wonder of His grace, 

Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, 

That lived a way out there. 

Now He walks beside me day by day, 

Ever watching o’er me lest I stray, 

Helping me to find that narrow way, 

He’s Everything to me.

(From the 1960’s song He’s everything to me— by Ralph Carmichael 

He’s everything to me captures the essence of Christian ‘faith’. Faith in Jesus is personal and relational. It embraces feelings and provokes warm affection. Faith is not about appeasing a distant God. Real faith cannot be kept safely in a corner of our lives, but permeates every last inch of our existence.

A person of faith lives with an all pervasive sense of God’s presence and his promises.

Hebrews defines faith as the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). For a Christian, faith is like a plait of hair made up of three intertwining strands: the first strand is a DECISIVE ACT in which we abandon all self reliance, and place our trust in the finished work of Jesus to bring us from darkness into light. That is saving faith.

The second strand of faith is the ONGOING HABIT OF LIFE whereby we believe God’s revealed word and act accordingly, no matter what we see with our eyes. That is living faith.

The third strand of faith is the HOLY SPIRIT without whom saving and living faith are impossible. He is the breath that animates* our faith.

Today, as we continue to walk through Hebrews 11, we pause to look at Abel’s witness of faith. Next week we will look at the faith of Enoch and Noah.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old were approved by God. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  (Hebrews 11:1-4)

Act in faith…or stay in the womb forever!

We act by faith from the day we are born. Every morning we eat an egg, we act on the belief that it is free of salmonella. When a toddler jumps from a Jungle Jim into her father’s arms, she trusts he will catch her. We put our hope in gravity with every step and close our eyes at night believing they will open in the morning. We believe in ‘love’ and trust a human being when we take our vows at the wedding altar. An atheist builds his life on the belief that God and the supernatural do not exist– on the conviction that there is oblivion after we die. In contrast, a Christian lives by faith that God existed before time; created the universe from nothing; spoke through Creation, his word and his Son; and will return on an appointed day in the future to judge every person and restore creation to what it should be (Psalm 19:1-6John 1:1-6Heb 1:1Matt 24:44Rev 21:5).

Most beliefs cannot be proven or seen with the naked eye, but we think and act on the basis that they are true… or we must stay in the womb forever! We consider this kind of faith reasonable. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that Christian faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But it is faith that is rooted in God himself and his coherent message of redemption. It is a reasonable message that must be heard, processed and believed personally before ‘faith’ can be born: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”(Rom 10:17;14).

‘Saving faith’ outgrows its cradle and matures into robust ‘living faith’ as we believe the promises of God day by day and act upon them. It is the same faith.

God’s approval versus living to please God

The “men of old” listed in the Hebrews 11 had a saving and living faith in Yahweh and His promises of a future redeemer. They also believed the message God had revealed to them in whatever dim way, and that was enough. God commended them, because they relied on his mercy and took him at his word (Hebrews 11:25639). Many generations passed before God’s once-for-all Redeemer appeared and those promises were fulfilled through a cross and an unlikely King. He was the only one who could meet God’s approval. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He pronounced him, “My Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt 17:5). Christian faith is not about us meeting God’s approval, but about being tethered to the one “in whom God is well pleased”. It is stunning that by faith we receive the same stamp of approval that Jesus did (Rom 5:1Rom 8:1). And as we continue to live by faith, we discover that God’s commands are blessings, not burdens. Those who know they are approved by God seek out what pleases Him and learn to serve him out of love and not obligation (Eph 5:10).

Abel’s faith and Cain’s offence

Hebrews tells us that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, because it was offered “in faith” (Heb 11:4). Let’s piece the story together and see if the New Testament casts more light on Abel’s faith and Cain’s offence:

In Genesis 4:1-16, Cain murders his brother Abel after God warns him, “ Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it(Gen 4:7).

The human heart is the front door into our lives. Sin is always crouching at the threshold waiting to be let in. The Apostle John notes that Cain’s deeds were evil whereas Abel’s were righteous, and places the story in the context of love and hatred. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:12131415).

God saw through Cain’s altar into his resentful and angry heart. That’s why his offering was offensive to God.

In contrast to Cain, Abel’s “faith” showed itself in two ways: He had a pure heart and a desire to offer his best to God. He gave the firstborn from his flock and their fat portions. God, who looks at the heart, saw Abel’s sincere desire to seek the Lord’s face as he offered his sacrifice. Cain went to the altar to win God’s favour, whereas Abel went in faith. Cain’s sacrifice was ritual and routine, whereas Abel worshipped God in spirit and in truth. The Bible warns us that God is not interested in our external acts if our hearts are not transparent and sincere. The sacrifices that please God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will never turn away (Ps 51:16-17). Hypocrisy and pride is an offence to God.

A pure heart

But let’s get real here. Can any of us ever have a “pure heart” as God understands purity? Can we ever be completely free of hypocrisy in our motives? Can we offer God anything He needs?

Never! We are sheep that have gone astray. WE can never settle accounts with God through external sacrifices of time, talents or works. Neither could Cain or Abel. Nor can we rectify the hidden jealousies, resentments, greed or pride that crouch at our door. We cannot ascend to God’s holiness. David realises this in Psalm 24:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Only Jesus can trade his pure heart and clean hands for our filthy ones. Only He can vindicate us (Ps 24:5). Only “the perfecter of our faith” can help us live our lives by faith as Abel did. Only Jesus can rescue us from the tyranny of our false gods and idols (Ps 24:4). The only ‘offering’ God wants from our generation is our heart—a broken and contrite heart that is honest about our sin and depends on Jesus to redeem our past, present and future. Abel trusted in God’s future redeemer, and by this ‘faith’ he offered a sacrifice which was ‘pleasing’ to God. Likewise, you and I need to accept the gift of Christ’s pure heart, and then offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1-2).


Father, stir my heart to approach you sincerely as Abel did– in spirit and in truth. Thank you Lord Jesus, that you give me your pure heart and clean hands so that I may boldly approach God’s throne of grace. You are my steady anchor through every season of life and I trust you. Lord, help me to remember that you have always been faithful to me even when my eyes could not see you were there. Father, help me to believe that you are well pleased with me because I am hidden in your Beloved Son. Do not allow me to slip into worship that is shaped by duty or routine as Cain did. Give me eyes to see the subtle sins I am allowing to creep through my heart’s open door. And today I confess my sin honestly to you Lord, from whom no secrets are hidden. Give me a soft heart that spills over with affection for you, so that I may offer you the best of myselfall of my days.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Remember God’s faithfulness as you click here and listen to the beautiful old hymn, “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” – Matt Boswell and Boyce College Choir.

*to animate= to energize, stir, bring to life, to vitalize.

Longing for Home

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” CS Lewis.

Home is much better than camping! I am often the target of my family’s jokes because I claim to be a camper. I go crazy over the gadgets, cooking equipment and blow-up mattresses, but in reality I’m useless at sleeping in a tent and eating out of tins! I love the comforts of home too much. The reality is that Christians are a lot like campers. The Bible tells us that since this world is not our home, we shouldn’t blend in or make ourselves too comfortable here (1 Peter 2:11-12). Sometimes a campsite is an inhospitable and downright dangerous place. The tent gets leaky, is attractive to mosquitoes and the ablution facilities smell! Not to mention the noisy neighbours who play loud music all night! Do you sometimes have an indefinable longing in your soul? A homesickness for something lost? A powerful desire for all to be well, as it should be? Do you sometimes feel alienated from a culture that produces TV shows like “The Bachelor” and lives by the maxim “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die?” It is a good sign if we don’t feel we belong. It is right to be homesick for a perfect home, where everyone will walk in harmony with God, where communities are connected, bodies and minds are healthy, and souls know rest and peace. God’s image in us cries out for a home of perfect order and beauty, where even the weakest are known, loved and welcome. Most of all, we groan for a lost home where there is no pain or death– where sin (the root of all suffering) is finally ripped up and tossed onto the bonfire for good. The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for a believer, but only the beginning of the final chapter of God’s redemptive story. God is the ultimate homemaker and is restoring a grand home where all his children will live with him forever (John 14:1-3). This is not wishful thinking but God’s firm promise to every man, woman and child who dies “in Christ.” Our permanent home is called “the new heavens and the new earth” and it is beyond our wildest imagination (1 Cor 2:9). Paradise lost will be found again. There is a great welcome for every dying believer who enters eternity with Jesus: A home free of disease, death, disorder and despair. A place where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13Rev 21:1Isaiah 65:1765:22). A place where we can finally take off our shoes, put down our roots and never say goodbye.

But first we must shed the tent.

Our text today is from Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

Stranger in a foreign land

Abraham left a home of idol worship because He believed God’s promise to take him to a better place, a land God would give him and his descendants. It was the land of Canaan. Yet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as foreigners in the land of promise all their lifetimes. Although a wealthy man, Abraham’s family lived in tents and owned only a burial site, where Sarah, Abraham and later Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were buried (Gen 23:691113). The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham’s faith was founded on a future hope: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”(Heb 11:10). All the Patriarchs were looking forward to a better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11:14-15).

“Evidently, Abraham’s greatest hopes and dreams for a homeland were invested not in earthly Canaan but in his heavenly homeland, a city without foundations. No more moving from place to place in temporary lodging—this city would be designed in God’s mind and built with his hands.” (Nancy Guthrie, Hoping for Something Better.)

Like Abraham, we are still waiting for the day when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). It is as though Christ has paid for the house, but God’s children are still waiting to move in. Those who love him are in the period of ‘groaning’, as we wait for creation’s redemption and our resurrected bodies.

Today, we can look back in history and see that Jesus fulfilled so many of the promises given to Abraham. We see now that Abraham’s faith was justified. But, like Abraham, Christians must live and die for God’s future promises that we cannot always see clearly now.

Living and dying by faith

Today, as in Abraham’s time, believers are called to believe God’s promises and never stop hoping in his clearly revealed word. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). Only God knows what tomorrow has in store for us, but this scene from the new heaven and new earth is what every believer can be certain of beyond the grave:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)

It seems strange at first that the writer of Hebrews chooses to highlight the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in the face of death, instead of choosing another act of bravery or heroism from their younger days. But the Patriarchs show steadfast confidence in God’s promise of home, right to their last breaths: As a dying man, Jacob’s faith was steadfast as he worshipped God and blessed Joseph’s sons. After living almost his entire lifetime as a stranger and exile in Egypt, Joseph ordered that his bones be buried in the promised land– his home (Gen 50:24-25Ex 13:19). It took another 400 years before Moses took those bones out of Egypt, but Joseph never stopped believing that God would rescue his family and take them back home. Even when Isaac was tied to the altar, Abraham believed that God could raise his beloved son from the dead, which is what every Christian is promised when Christ returns. Because Christ Jesus has been raised from the dead, all the Old Testament heroes of the faith, and every believer who has put their faith in Him, will be raised from the dead and clothed in resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15:20Hebrews 11:172022). When we lose the tent, we will find our home!

The King was homeless too

Are you homesick for the perfect garden where God placed the first man and woman to live, love and work? Do you long for the days of shalombefore man disobeyed, bickered and blamed—before we were banished from the Garden to wander restlessly in a hostile environment? It is good to know that Jesus himself experienced the same longings we have for home. All the fullness of the Father dwelt in Him, yet he willingly left his heavenly home to live in our fractured world. He left the “bosom of the Father” (John 1:18KJV) to be an alien and stranger on earth. He was the eternal Word who became flesh and pitched his tent among us (John 1:14). He lived as an exile, rejected by those who should have welcomed him. The world did not know him (John 1:1011). God’s Messiah had nowhere to lay his head as He ushered in the promised kingdom (Matt 8:19-20). He was “the stone” the Jewish leaders rejected, who became the cornerstone of God’s people  (Mark 12:10-11Acts 4:11-12Ps 118:22-23). In his death, Jesus was abandoned by his friends and surrounded by strangers. Worst of all, He took on our spiritual alienation when he was forsaken by His Father on the cross and cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:6Psalm 22:1). Jesus had no funeral and was buried in a borrowed grave. The King of the universe was homeless on earth in order to share his home with us.

The King’s prayer for the homeless

But, on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the protection of believers who live “in” the world, but are not “of” the world (John 17:1416). Like Jesus, we are homeless too. His prayer is steeped in longing and love for his Father and all believers throughout the centuries. It is a wonderful prayer for us to read when we find ourselves groaning for home. Jesus understands our longings for all to be well. He sees that our homes and families are not perfect. He grieves for our losses. Jesus promises that it will all be made right at a certain day in the future—the day he returns to earth and does his final work of restoration, renewal and redemption of the entire Creation. Jesus will come in his own time and in his own way, but he will come in glory and all the angels with him (Matt 25:31). His coming is our “blessed hope”, “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Revelation 21 gives a glimpse of what the new heavens and new earth will be like. I will leave the renovation of our future home in the capable hands of the ultimate Architect and Builder– God himself! Like Abraham, we are passengers in transit. We live in fragile tents. We are called to believe God and hope in his promises, even on behalf of believers who are unable to hope for themselves. Hebrews 11 reminds us not to grasp too tightly the things of this world, to travel light and keep our eyes fixed on the final destination. When it comes to our time to die, I pray that every person reading this devotion is ready to discard your tent and move into your new home.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

Live it out!

  1. Do you believe the promises of God’s word are trustworthy and true, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph did? Are you sure of your ultimate destiny, or do you think the new heavens and new earth are wishful thinking?
  2. Do you know that no matter how wonderful your family or community is, you will never have all your longings for ‘home’ met on earth?
  3. Build community and friendship wherever you find yourself. Invest in people, not in things. The gathering of God’s people to worship, learn, pray and encourage one another is a dim reflection of the great community of believers who will share life in the heavenly city. In the meantime, God has told us to share our longings, hurts and hopes with fellow pilgrims along life’s journey (Heb 10:25).
  4. Invest in your relationship with God. After all, heaven is His home and you are His tabernacle in this world. He promises His presence and love until the day He takes you home (Rom 8:31-39John 15:9Ps 139:7Ex 33:14).
  5. Worship as you listen to Brooke Fraser singing the CS Lewis song (click here).


Father, thank you for the example of these Old Testament believers who urge us to live and die by faith in your promises. We know it is only by your grace that we can fix our hearts on what our eyes cannot see, especially when we are old, sick or afraid, on the days your promises seem like a hazy dream. Lord, thank you for your promises of redemption that were fulfilled in Jesus– for your Son’s death, resurrection and ascension, and the great salvation that this achieved for believers and for the whole of creation. Thank you for your promised Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts today. As the believing Patriarchs blessed their descendants, we pray as believers that you would circumcise our hearts and the hearts of our descendants, so that we may love you with all our heart and soul, and live in your presence– today, tomorrow and forevermore (Deuteronomy 30:6). In the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Useful resource:

  • Hoping for Something Better: Refusing to settle for life as usual.Book on Hebrews by Nancy Guthrie.

Keeping your head in the heat of the kitchen

“It wasn’t long before the gracious hostess in Martha collapsed and the Queen of Hearts took over, pointing fingers and screaming, “Off with their heads! Off with everyone’s head!” 

“The world clamours, “Do more! Be all that you can be!” But our Father whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.” ―  Joanna Weaver. *

The short story of Mary and Martha has always fascinated me. In just five verses, which describe Jesus’ visit to a home in Bethany in the first century, God speaks volumes to our families and homes today. The short story is like a multi-course meal which gets richer the more we chew on it. It addresses the perils of a performance-driven Christian life where activities are placed before heart attitude. It challenges the notion that we can do something to earn God’s favour before or after we are saved. It shows how an inherently good act of service can easily become a destructive thing when our attitude is wrong. It draws the link between an intimate, vital relationship with Jesus and fruitful Christian service. It challenges us to check our priorities and put first things first. It asks Christians in the digital age a pertinent question: how are you stewarding your precious attention span? The story of Mary and Martha is a cameo of the question Isaiah asked God’s people, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”(Isa 55:2).

At the Home of Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

It’s hot in the kitchen!

We must work like Martha with a posture like Mary.”

I heard this expression in a sermon by Alistair Begg titled “A Biblical Approach to Anxiety,” and it struck a cord with me. To be honest, I’ve always had sympathy for Martha in the story. I wondered if Mary’s posture of sitting at Jesus’ feet could survive the heat of a kitchen at rush hour. I have prayed many times, “Jesus, teach me how to work like Martha– with a posture like Mary.”

I have often heard this story squeezed into the aperture of a particular lens. Some say Jesus is advocating a life of contemplation not action. Others focus on the difference in temperament between Mary and Martha. However, this story comes after Jesus sent 72 disciples to go into the towns on foot “as lambs among wolves,” to heal the sick and preach the gospel (Luke 10:1-11). Presumably all kinds of personalities would have made up the 72 sent to ‘sow’ the gospel of the kingdom. It was hard, hot work. The Christian life is not passive, but active and fruitful. And active service is not just for extrovert evangelistic types. The story of Mary and Martha also follows Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, where he taught that loving God and our neighbour requires action, not just words, thoughts or good intentions. The man showed pity only when he got on his knees in the dirt, treated the man’s wounds, transported him and paid for the innkeeper to look after him. The Samaritan’s service involved costly sacrifice and effort (Luke 10:33-35). That is what Jesus asks of us, because it is what He did for us on the cross.

So getting back to the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus himself knows that much of life is spent sweating in the kitchen. In fact, he sends us to work in the ‘kitchen’ (wherever that may be for us)…even to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). And, as a man who experienced the extremities of human experience, Jesus knows how hot the kitchen can get.

“Martha, Martha!”

Jesus is kind and gracious in his response to Martha’s meltdown. We know from John’s gospel that Jesus loved both sisters and was comfortable in their home (John 11:5). Jesus’ rebuke of Martha is tender but straight: “You are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha enjoys hospitality, which is a good thing in God’s eyes. Christians are told to be hospitable and Martha takes this to heart. But her devotion to preparing a special meal for Jesus eclipses her devotion to Jesus himself. Listening to his voice is not a priority for her. Her attention is in the kitchen rather than on the words of the Saviour in the sitting room. The result is that her heart is fragmented and upset as she works. She is truly ticked off. I can imagine her sulking, sighing and mumbling under her breath!

Making a meal of it

In the text, there is no hint that the task is too much for her, but Martha has made too much of the task! She is fussing too much over less important things. She is complicating her life. Her service soon becomes a quest to live up to her own standards as the perfect hostess. Jesus has not asked for this, nor does he need it. But Martha turns her labours into a demanding duty, rather than a joy. Soon Martha is disgruntled with her sister, distracted by all the preparations and even irritated with Jesus for not paying attention to her raw deal.

“Lord, don’t you care?” is the same accusation that the disciples voiced in the boat when Jesus slept on a cushion through a storm (Mark 4:38). Jesus’ reply to the disciples was similar: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Troubled by many things

Like Martha, I have a tendency to be distracted, disgruntled and “troubled by many things.” When the kitchen gets too hot, I can easily strip off my apron and become like the Queen of Hearts, lopping off the heads of my family! I also bark orders to Jesus and everyone within earshot when I think I’m being taken for granted! Like Martha, I sometimes make too much of tasks and think I am indispensable to the world. Before I know it, my mind is fragmented and distracted. I cannot pay attention to the most important people as I feverishly labour to get a task done. Jesus gently reminds Martha, and us, to get our priorities straight (Luke 10:41-42). The kitchen of life is piping hot, and if you are anything like Martha…(or me), you need to practice the posture of Mary as you labour in the kitchen.

The attentive posture of Mary

In contrast, not much is said about Mary except that she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him. Jesus captured her attention fully. In middle-Eastern Jewish patriarchy, this would have been an outrage for a rabbi. Jesus doesn’t love Mary any more than Martha, but he welcomes her attentiveness and posture of humility and expectation. He sees Mary as one who knows her Shepherd’s voice and follows him (John 10:3-4). Her posture shows that she is teachable.

But is it fair that Martha is left to slave in the kitchen like Cinderella? It is highly unlikely that Mary was a lazy woman who had not helped Martha with the preparations before Jesus arrived. It is also possible that this same Mary is praised by Paul for working hard for the Christians in Rome (Rom 16:6). Her work ethic is not in question here. The issue is her devotion to Jesus and attentiveness to what he says.

Empty and expectant

Mary of Bethany had previously anointed the Lord Jesus with expensive ointment and wiped his feet with her hair (John 12:1-8). It is a beautiful story that is worth reading again if we are to understand Mary. She was a woman who treasured Jesus more than tasks and activities. She was not driven or distracted. She knew that the “one thing necessary” was not the quantity of courses nor the perfection of a meal, but being where God had chosen to reveal himself.  At that moment, it was at the feet of His Son.

Seek his face

Mary of Bethany prioritized intimacy with God over a performance-driven life. She knew that she was empty and needed to be filled with the word of life so that she could live a fruitful life. She found her rest in Jesus. Like David a thousand years before, Mary lived to seek God’s face though the face of His Son:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path.

The people God employs

This story of Mary and Martha transcends hospitality, culture and gender. Your “hot kitchen” may be at school or university, in a workplace or a war zone, on a farm or factory, in a hospital or church—wherever God has placed you to live and work as a Christian. Isaiah describes the people God employs: “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isa 66:2). Isaiah is describing a person like Mary.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus challenges us to put first things first. He invites us  to pay close attention to the word of life– “a lamp shining in a dark place” (Heb 2:12 Peter 1:19).  He calls us tenderly by name, as he called “Martha, Martha,” and asks:

  • Do you have a regular time to draw near and be attentive to my word? Or is your attention always on other things?
  • Are you distracted and troubled about many things, or are you resting in me?
  • Has your devotion to tasks or technology left you with a dried-up, stressed-out attitude?
  • Do you come to me each day, empty and expectant like Mary?
  • Do you love to gaze at my ‘face’ and all I have accomplished for your life now and into eternity?

It is my experience that when we value God’s presence more than our performance, perfection or phones, we will find that we are not standing alone in the heat of the kitchen. We will look up to see our Lord labouring right beside us. Instead of stressing to get it all done in time, we will discover that it’s not up to us after all. Jesus is the head chef and we are merely the potato peelers! What a relief indeed!

“Lord, I long to serve you in a fruitful Christian life. I long to be part of your Kingdom work on this earth in all kinds of ways. But I do not want to serve you with a dry, distracted or disgruntled heart. Please confront the Martha in me today as I seek to pursue the “one thing needed” to live a fruitful Christian life. Help me to steward my attention span and save the best of it for you. Help me to find rest in what you have already done. Amen.”

Useful quote and resources:

  • “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 interaction with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts, and may draw us away from God.” JC Ryle.




Why the Christian life is more like farming than Instagram View Larger Image

We live in a self-obsessed culture that craves the extraordinary, the awesome and the epic. High self-esteem is touted as the remedy for all ills. Contemporary sages advise us to meditate on how special and lovable we are. Paul’s description of a future generation is chillingly prophetic of our times:

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:2).

Social media breathes and feeds self love. Its platforms produce instant and measurable acclaim. It is easy for Christians also to be carried away by the tide. Comparisons spawn a mood of impatience, restlessness and discontent for young people who expect to make an impact on the world within their first year of graduating. It is very different from the portrait the Bible paints of the Christian life: A picture of humility, service and sacrifice. A picture of self-forgetfulness, self-control and gratitude. A picture of a sinner saved and sustained by God’s grace. A picture of an eternal harvest after a lifetime of diligent planting, faithful watering and patient waiting on God. As children of our culture, let us remind ourselves that we are first children of the Most High God, called to live by his grace, not by our own gifts. Called to bear one another’s burdens rather than our own trophies. Called to have a sane opinion of ourselves. Called to read and study the Bible to know what God requires of us in this world: “To discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2). If we look carefully at the Bible, we will see that the Christian life looks nothing like Instagram, and a lot like farming:

Our text today is Galatians 6:2-10:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

On the farm

Paul compares the Christian life to the sowing and reaping of productive farm lands. The farmer is persistent and patient. He cannot farm with a remote control. His work seems ordinary and mundane, even pedantic, but the small tasks he performs day after day make the difference between a bumper crop and a complete disaster. Extraordinary returns are produced from ordinary labour over a lifetime. It’s the same for the Christian life: Although we labour in a world full of thorns and thistles, frustrations and setbacks, in Jesus Christ we can produce fruit that will last—an eternal harvest that cannot be spoilt or destroyed (Matt 6:19-21Gal 6:7;8;9). The Christian life is not about hanging in there till our perfect redemption. Redemption requires us to act positively and seize every opportunity to do good (Gal 6:105:13). It is about actively pushing back the darkness wherever we find ourselves (you in your small corner and I in mine.) This is called the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.”

Appearances are deceiving. The authentic Christian life is much like the growth of God’s kingdom: It germinates invisibly under the ground for a long time before it sprouts. It grows organically and gradually. It grows stronger after opposition and pruning. It produces a harvest only after the soil lies fallow and the farmer waits. It is difficult to measure the harvest until it is ultimately reaped. God works extraordinary things through the life of an ordinary Christian who gives him/herself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s service.

Our work and God’s

Jesus also uses this farmer analogy in his parable of the seed and the soils (Mark 4:26-29). In Christ’s parable, sowing is specifically related to our work of spreading the gospel, which is the ‘seed’ in the parable. We must not confuse our work with the Lord’s. We are, after all, not God’s appointed Messiahs.

Even with perfect diligence, the farmer cannot coax rain from the sky or control the inevitable hail and droughts. But often the farmer must fight an all-out war against enemies like pests, disease and weeds. Many years may seem like a dead loss. But in “due season”, the persistent farmer reaps a bountiful harvest which far exceeds the initial seeds planted. Paul tells us, “Be steadfast, immovable, give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain”(1 Cor 15:58).“In the Lord” is the crucial phrase.

No matter how talented, intentional and diligent, not one of us can produce a harvest ourselves. Nor can we measure it accurately, post it on Instagram or produce a photo to prove it. Only the Holy Spirit can germinate a seed in the human heart and bring dead bones to life. Our gifts, education and energy– even those we have led to the Lord– are not ours to brag about.

The good we sow, the wars we win and the harvest we reap are all God’s gifts of grace, but we are invited to pray and labour alongside Christ and each other, in the power of God’s Spirit.

So let’s quit worrying about the weather and fretting about the size of the crop. Let’s stop forcing God into our timetable and instead trust that his timing is always best. Let’s get on with farming and leave the rest to the Lord of the harvest!

If you are feeling weary and despondent today, this is God’s message to you:

“The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:7-9 NIV).

An antidote to weariness is community

“Growing weary” is an occupational hazard of the Christian life. That’s why Paul repeats it in 2 Thessalonians 3:13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” Paul also tells us to admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and be patient with our struggling brothers and sisters (1 Thess 5:14). Christian fellowship is one of the greatest antidotes to weariness. However zealous we may be, we all have faint hearts and weak bodies. We are but dust. That’s why we need to labour alongside one another like runners in the Comrade’s marathon.

Let’s get practical!

  • Make sure you are connected to your local church. Serving and bearing each other’s burdens happens in community. Giving, growth groups and support groups, missions, pastoral care, gardening, prayer, children’s ministry, media, music and many other opportunities are available in local churches. Get involved, but read the three warnings below!

#1. Farming is not a celebrity business

Paul reminds us to keep a sane image of ourselves. We are fooling ourselves if we think we are something when we are nothing (Gal 6:3). Our freedom in Christ is not an excuse to indulge our human nature, but to serve each other humbly in love (Gal 5:13). Clearing bush, preparing soil and planting seeds is dirty, hard work. It cannot be delegated to a garden service! So too is service and discipleship, but it is how we practice the law of Christ (Gal 5:14). Sowing to please the Spirit is quite different from sowing for our own glory and fame (Gal 6:28). It will always produce the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If these fruits are lacking in our service, we must examine our labour to see whether we are sowing to please the Spirit or to quench our thirst for glory and fame.

Platforms, posts and profiles do not impress God. But children of God who bear the Spirit’s distinctive fruit, even as they go about serving and doing good to all– will please their Father immensely.

Just as farming is done on remote lands, we are called to labour in invisible corners where no one will thank or applaud us for what we are doing. “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord, not for human masters, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance as a reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col 3:2324). Nothing is invisible to Jesus.

“Sowing to please the Spirit” means listening, waiting and relying on the Spirit each day, instead of just scattering wildly. As Proverbs 19:2 warns us: “Zeal without knowledge is not good, and hasty feet will miss the way.”– which brings us to our second warning!

#2. Beware of hasty feet!

It is easy to have hasty feet that miss God’s way when it comes to Christian ministry. That’s why Paul tells us to test our own work and not compare ourselves to others (Gal 6:4). Comparisons make us envious or conceited (Gal 5:26). When our eyes are on the ‘amazing’ things other people are doing, we become disheartened or discontent. Each of us has a different load to bear (Gal 6:5), a different temperament, measure of faith and calling. Comparisons are what drive Instagram, but they have no place in the Christian life (Rom 12:3).

#3. Beware of burnout!

Hasty feet can also lead to burnout! Christians are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, not half dead ones! God is not a slave driver and our bodies are not machines. We must not buy the lie that doing more and working longer will yield a greater harvest. It is not a Biblical or sustainable model of work. Every Christian should read Christopher Ash’s wise little book “Zeal without Burnout—Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.” In his book, Ash shares stories (including his own) of many faithful Christians who have experienced burnout in ministry and the warning bells and lessons they learned. Burnout is a dangerous and deceptive condition characterized by extreme exhaustion, lack of motivation and anxiety. It is a hard place to come back from. That is why every Christian should read this book and practice Ash’s Biblical keys to a sustainable Christian ministry. I wish I’d read it when I was 21.

I will end with Christopher Ash’s reminder to himself and every disciple of Christ:

“I am—and will never, this side of the resurrection, be more than—a creature of dust. I will rest content in my creaturely weakness; I will use the means God has given me to keep going in this life while I can; I will allow myself time to sleep; I will trust him enough to take a day off each week; I will invest in friendships and not be a proud loner; I will take with gladness the inward refreshment he offers me. I will serve the Lord Jesus with a glad and restful zeal, with all the energy that he works within me, but not with anxious toil, selfish ambition, the desire for the praise of people, and all the other ugly motivations that will destroy my soul. So help me God.”

Resources to help us not grow weary:

  1. Love Not Sleep. Article by Marshall Segal on Desiring God. Read online here.
  2. Zeal without Burnout—Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice. Christopher Ash. Buy online at Takealot here:
  3. Snapshots of Saints who Endured. Podcast on “The Gospel Coalition”. Listen here:
  4. Listen here to “Faith to be strong (Carried along)” by Andrew Peterson. Share the whole album “After all these years Collection”with a friend.