Mary & Martha — God Focused Worship


My friend and pastor, Bill Dogterom, just wrote a blog about a re-discovery he made concerning the 2 main words used for worship in the Old Testament.  I would highly suggest you read it (click here).  Bill has a gift for explaining deep concepts in a succinct and approachable way.  However, for our purposes right now I’ll summarize it.

There are basically 2 words in the Old Testament, each echoed in the New Testament, that blend together our understanding of worship.  The first word captures the deep, visceral, heart-felt response to encounter with God.  The way we experience his presence and are moved to respond to him. i.e. clapping, singing, shouting, dancing, silence, hands raising, bowing down.  

The second word prepares for the response described by the first word.  i.e. setting up the equipment, learning and leading the rituals, writing and singing the songs, weaving the textiles, making the tapestries, building and playing the instruments, and so on.  It is often translated “serve” and regularly links to the work of the Levites.  

Again, Bill goes in a little more detail and I recommend you read his blog.

As I was reading it, I immediately thought of the famous Mary & Martha passage found in Luke 10:38-42.  You may remember that Jesus was in their home and Mary was at Jesus’ feet worshiping while Martha was cooking the meal.  Martha was bothered that her sister wasn’t helping and asked Jesus to intervene on her behalf.  Jesus says, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Many times I’ve heard Mary praised and Martha ridiculed when people comment on this passage.  Other times, this verse is used to show that we can be too busy to stop and worship Jesus.   That’s a great lesson, however in light of this re-discovery of the two words for worship in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something that we are missing.

Could it be that had Martha seen her service as worship, she would have been spiritually renewed instead of drained?  Similarly, maybe the problem wasn’t that Martha was too busy, but her act of service was dedicated to the wrong thing or really, person.  In truth, Martha’s real problem was that she was distracted from her worship of Jesus by her sister’s mode of worship.  Martha needed to give her service unto the Lord as her worship.

We do this too, don’t we?  We are “distracted” by all kinds of worship or what we perceive to be lack of worship.  When someone doesn’t serve as much as we serve we start to complain about doing all the work ourselves.  I’m not in favor of a small minority doing a majority of the work, however it is equally important that Jesus alone remains the focus of our worship and service.

The second thing I noticed from this lesson is that these types of worship are not mutually exclusive.  In the contrary, they are essential to each other — you cannot have one without the other.  If there is no preparation for the encounter, then the encounter may not happen or could be greatly diminished.  Conversely, if all there is is preparation, what’s the point?  It would be like making all the plans for a wedding, having the rehearsal, but never actually having a ceremony.  

Furthermore, each of us should be balanced in these two ideas of worship.  In other words, there are times when the Marys may need to join in the preparations and service.  Likewise, there are times when the Marthas need to fall on their needs, click off the to-do list, and sit in the presence of God.

So, Worship Leaders, the next time you are in rehearsal, don’t breeze by practice without realizing this is part of your offering to the Lord.  I am so thankful for those who set up lyrics and lights, change batteries, and vacuum the carpets — all to prepare for our encounter with the Almighty.  This is our act of worship.  I’m equally as thankful that God has given us the ability to encounter Him.  His goodness. His refreshing. His majesty and sovereignty.  The overwhelming sense of His love for us.  And, as we encounter Him, we are transformed into His likeness.


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