Men are exhausted. They shoulder an insufferable burden of being ‘successful’ in the world, ‘active’ in church, and ‘godly’ in private. Men are confused. Life is a vast labyrinth, and the modern education of men does nothing to teach them how to navigate the maze. Men are distracted. The dazzling knowledge of modern science is used to create a technological prison in which attention cannot be focused and focus cannot be maintained. What word, then, do men today need to hear? They need to be reminded of Luke 10:42, that one thing is needed.
Simple to Grasp, Difficult to Apply
The principle of one thing being needed is easy to understand. In fact, the principle is not exclusively Christian. Pick any leadership book off the shelf, or any bestseller on life planning or corporate management, and the idea will be presented as inviolable truth. Both general wisdom and divine revelation reiterate the same point: success requires focus. If the idea is not complicated, why is applying the truth so difficult?
One reason is because our culture preaches an opposing message. The typical framework for modern happiness, at least in middle class America, is that of a bucket list. Men are not told to invest all their apples in a single spiritual stock. They are taught to diversity. The happy life consists of a basketful of different goods. A man must achieve success in a respectable profession; he must have rounded children that participate in a wide selection of activities; he must experience the sights and sounds of sports culture and popular entertainment; he must be fit and funny, and so on. A man is curiously stunted unless he is steadily scratching off item after item on a socially determined list of unquestioned to-dos. Many things are needed, not one. That is the sales pitch of modern America.
Another reason is that Protestant churches today celebrate ‘Marthas’ more than ‘Marys’. In Luke 10 Martha is upset with Mary because Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, while Martha is busy getting things done in the kitchen. According to Jesus, Mary chose the better part. She was doing the ‘one thing needed’ while Martha was unnecessarily hurrying herself about tasks that could have been delayed. Now there have been seasons of church history when the treble of Mary needed to be lowered and the bass of Martha turned up. At times, Christians have run off into the woods in order to live contemplative lives when they ought to have been pursuing normal occupations in the real world. But this criticism does not apply today. Today, most churches celebrate Marthas (members that volunteer incessantly) and begrudge Marys (those who prioritize spiritual growth over a hurried life). The proof of this is the relentless pursuit of church leaders to get men to sign up for activities without first asking them about the quality of their walk with God. There is very little accountability for men regarding whether or not they are sitting at the feet of Jesus. There are scrupulous records, however, of time spent volunteering in the ‘kitchen’.
A third reason we struggle is because the heart of man is double-minded. We do not live exclusively for the glory of God. His fame is not a golden thread that runs through all of our actions. Instead we try desperately to squeeze two agendas into the brief space of a single life – God’s and our own. The result is failed stewardship. Our task list is readily completed. His barely gets started.
The One Thing Needed
What is this ‘thing’ that cannot be left undone? The best answer is to keep to the exact words of Scripture. The ‘thing’ is to sit at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:42), to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), to do all for the glory of God (Col. 3:17), and to love the Lord, our God, with heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matt. 22:36). The ‘thing’, therefore, is not a finite task, but an focused intention. The one thing needed is to not allow anything to distract us from our eternal purpose to love, know, and obey God. Regardless of which sphere of life we are momentarily inhabiting – work, play, family, friends, marriage, parenting – the fundamental goal is the same. Here I must serve God; here I must know God; here I must obey God. The applications of this principle are wide, but the agenda is narrow. Like Noah and Enoch, I must walk with God. That is my mission both when I am alone in prayer and when I am immersed in work.
Applying the Principle
Two things are needed to simplify life according to the teaching of Jesus in Luke 10:42. One is a question; the other, an intention.
The question is, what is the one thing needed? If a man wants to simplify his life, all he has to do is take this question and to apply it to all of the various areas of responsibility in his life. For example, as a parent, he needs to ask the question, what is the one thing needed for my children? The answer will not be violin lessons, sports camps, and trips to Disney. The answer will be Deuteronomy 6:7, to inscribe the things of God in the tender hearts of children. The same question can be asked of finances, or leisure, or work. In each case the answer will be as simple as it is countercultural. The objectives in life will not be many, but few. More can always be added if first priorities are fuliflled. However, the question will ensure that first things are kept first and that no secondary aim is elevated above primary duties.
The second thing a man needs is a resolute intent to obey Christ. Priorities are of no practical use if they are not diligently implemented. A man must not only clarify what he must do, he must then go forth and do it. For good reason John Calvin writes, ‘All correct knowledge of God originates in obedience.’ Godliness is not measured in theoretical knowledge but practical submission. The test of reading Luke 10:42 is a test of application. Are we willing to simplify life so that we can sit at the feet of Jesus? If the answer is ‘yes’, we must then take out a pen and paper and do the hard work of figuring out what this looks like in the real world.