There is something wonderful about coming home again after being away at college. It’s not just that I get the chance to finally catch up on sleep or that I get to eat home-cooked meals that are a million times better than cafeteria food. It’s that I’m surrounded by people who know me so thoroughly, I can say we’re having “brown stuff with white rice” for dinner and they know I mean stir-fry or I can say “Nice….sweater” and they know I’m quoting one of our favorite movies. Home is the place where I don’t need to explain myself or spell out exactly what I mean.
Perhaps such a relationship is the answer to one of the inevitable questions from our discussion of a Christian’s work and leisure: if we accept that God has good purposes in both work and leisure, at different times for different reasons, what is the right balance between the two? How are individuals supposed to know when it is time to rest and when it is time to work? Where does one draw the line between the two so that it is clear when it is time to be still and when it is time to be about God’s work?
This question is one of the most frustrating parts of the story of Mary and Martha for Christians – particularly the Marthas in the Church. Martha was only doing what God had commanded her to do – she was using her gifts and talents to serve the Lord. Mary, likewise, was fulfilling Scripture’s command to “be still and know.” It seems, then, that both of the sisters were operating according to God’s instructions.
But, Mary was praised for her actions, whereas Martha was gently rebuked. Clearly what Martha was doing was not wrong since she was obeying God’s commandments to be hospitable. Instead, Martha’s mistake seems to have been simply choosing the wrong way of obeying God in that moment. This, therefore, raises the question…how did Mary know that it was time to be still?
Well, first, it’s important to look at what it was that Jesus singled out in commending Mary. He said, “Mary has chosen the better portion.” This “better portion” meant that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from Him, choosing to fellowship with God in Jesus, and expressing an attitude of dependence upon her Lord. Mary’s behavior was not merely that of a curious bystander, but of a disciple of Jesus – one who was attentive to Christ’s voice and positioned to be continually hearing.
This, perhaps, then is the key to truly cultivating a biblical perspective: the sanctified Christian is called not to a specific ratio between serving and resting, but instead to a disciple’s relationship with God. Just like my family knows me, my wants, my needs, my expressions without my saying a word, developing such a relationship with our Father in heaven allows us to understand what He is calling us to do in any given moment…even without ratios or rules.
Christ’s redemptive work completely changed the way in which we gain access to, and enjoy a relationship with, God. Religion was no longer simply about fulfilling outward obligations – whether those obligations were service or sacrifice. In fact, simply observing religious rules of labor and leisure were directly condemned by Christ during His ministry on earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not about adding new duties or obligations. It was about freeing believers from the tyranny of sin and the Law and opening free relational access to the Father.
What, then, does this mean for the Type-A Christian? It means that Christians are freed from their former obligations, their guilt and condemnation for rest, and from their slavery to productivity. There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1-2). Instead, a Christian’s theology of work and rest should be viewed in the context of a relationship with God the Father.
This relationship, this knowing of God – His desires and His pleasures – allows Christians to walk moment by moment in what God is calling them to do. Like Mary, Christians – no matter what their personality type – are called to study God, to learn to walk in His ways, to know Him. In doing so, Christians learn to walk in God’s freedom – free to work diligently, without condemnation, out of love for God, yet free to hear and observe God’s command to rest.
Just as God calls Christians to different forms of work, there may not be a one-size-fits-all model for Christians to follow for a work-to-rest ratio. However, a disciple of Christ needs no pattern other than God’s Word, His voice, and His moment-by-moment direction. Freed from the works-based obligations of the Law, freed from condemnation of rest and leisure, freed to walk hand-in-hand with God, the Type-A Christian finds a message of hope in the Bible: Christianity is not about a résumé of feats, it is about a relationship with the Father.
Hope for the Type-A Christian (Series Introduction)
Three Myths (Part I)
Like Father, Like Daughter (Part II)
The Frustration of Unproductivity (Part III)
All Work and No Play? (Part IV)