Many of us are probably familiar with the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke. See Luke 10:38–42 . While Mary is sitting calmly at Jesus' feet, engrossed in his conversation, her sister Martha is busy being a hostess. When she asks Jesus to tell Mary to lend her a hand with these responsibilities, Jesus gives a surprising answer. He says, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
The gospel, with its joyous message from God, who loves us and who intends only good for us, must pervade our lives more and more.
Doesn't Jesus' response sound rather strange to us? Does it imply that taking care of the responsibilities at hand and attending to one's everyday business affairs are of less value than developing our understanding of God?
Luke tells us that Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to him. She obviously felt drawn to the message about God and dropped everything to concentrate fully on it.
Each of us may have opportunities for spiritual growth as Mary did. But perhaps we are so overcome by our responsibilities that we do not feel we can give much time and thought to our relationship to God. What we are facing when we feel this way is the difference between a mortal and an immortal sense of existence. The mortal sense argues that we are material beings for whom God is a distant deity, if He is present at all. This mortal sense, speaking of illness, homelessness, and other troubles, is ingrained in us through education and habit.
The immortal, or spiritual, view shows us the truth of our nature as the offspring of God with all the rights and joys that includes. Yet despite the fact that this spiritual nature is the reality of our lives, we may have to make a conscious effort to open ourselves to spiritual sense, to turn to it, to consciously reflect on it. It is worth the effort, however. By doing so humbly, quietly, and expectantly, we begin to know ourselves as totally spiritual, the children of God. We learn that the voice of God, Truth, will penetrate the worldliness and mortality that would keep us from knowing good. And as we follow its guidance, we will find better health, greater happiness, and a strong awareness of God's loving and protecting presence in our lives.
Time and again mortal sense would seem to block this light within us by suggesting that our daily affairs are of greater importance than our relationship to God. If we accept this, we may feel an overpowering urge to stop praying and start rushing around doing things! Instead of giving our actions some quiet, prayerful thought, we may plunge into a flurry of activity. When this occurs, all the thoughts focused quietly on God and His ideas take flight, and prayer for ourselves and for the world becomes nearly impossible. Not only that; we may find ourselves losing a clear sense of our spirituality. We should not slip into thinking of ourselves as mortals, always struggling toward good but not able to achieve any permanent progress.
Through the influence of Christ, God's divine message to humanity—as well as through our experiences—we come to recognize more and more clearly that we really are spiritual. As this occurs, we see that a radical reassessment of our values is needed. The gospel, with its joyous message from God, who loves us and who intends only good for us, must pervade our lives more and more. In fact, by letting it assume the absolutely primary place in our thoughts and actions, we find greater joy in all we do because we are living from the standpoint of spirituality—our true nature—instead of feeling we are hapless slaves of matter. Our spiritual experiences teach us that even in little things we cannot serve "two masters," cannot serve "God and mammon," Matt. 6:24. as Christ Jesus states. This became evident to me in the following incident.
After several years of daily studying Christian Science, I suddenly realized one evening that for some time I had been feeling heavy and joyless. Just as quickly came the thought that this was not a proper state of mind for a genuine Christian Scientist. To be a Christian Scientist is to know that man is completely spiritual and inseparable from God. This is joy-inducing! So why, I wondered, did I feel so burdened?
Self-examination revealed that for quite a while I had been neglecting my daily study of the Bible Lesson in the Christian Science Quarterly. This lesson consists of citations from the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health by Mrs. Eddy. I realized that neglecting to ponder earnestly the true nature of my being and to pray to live more in accord with my true spirituality, had led me into this discomfort. I recognized that I had been taking care of my daily work for quite a while on a purely outward, materialistic level. I had not been bringing any spiritual sense of things to bear on my daily affairs. Immediately I again started taking time daily to develop my understanding of the divine truths of God and man. My renewed loyalty to God and consciousness of my inseparability from Him quickly restored me inwardly and caused me once again to be cheerful.
I saw that one of the ways we mistakenly accept mortality is by letting notions of material urgency and necessity keep us from cultivating our understanding of man's (our own) true spiritual nature. Mortality would enthrall us with detailed images of duties awaiting us that "absolutely have to be taken care of right away!" Uncontrolled, our consciousness only too willingly and only too quickly goes along with these material appeals. And we may find ourselves dashing off in the wrong direction without a second thought!
Here an urgent admonition by Mrs. Eddy comes to mind. "Be watchful, sober, and vigilant," she writes in Science and Health. "The way is straight and narrow, which leads to the understanding that God is the only Life. It is a warfare with the flesh, in which we must conquer sin, sickness, and death, either here or hereafter,—certainly before we can reach the goal of Spirit, or life in God." Science and Health, p. 324.
Spiritual vigilance causes us to take in the Word of God abundantly; spiritual watchfulness enables us to resist anything that would darken our sense of God's love and the presence of His Christ. Spiritual honesty and self-knowledge will show us if we are correctly applying the Word of God in our daily lives and expressing it through our conduct.
The one thing that is needful, as Jesus says, is to put God first in everything we do and under no circumstance to deviate from this plan. If we faithfully perform this highest duty, everything else in our lives will be benefited by the priorities we set.
This does not mean that our daily obligations and business matters are inferior, however. As we pray to live from a spiritual standpoint, we will learn not to undervalue or to overvalue them. We will not make gods of them but will instead approach them from the moral and spiritual basis Jesus provided for us.
As the values in our lives are seen from this spiritual standpoint, we have chosen the "good part." We feel inner guidance, calm, and security; we experience greater safety and satisfaction. And this good part shall not be taken from us!
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