One Necessary Thing

One Necessary Thing

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series. Click here to read Part 2.

In 1370 the first public clock was set up in Germany, and ever since then modern society has run on a schedule. When productivity and efficiency are the name of the game, the more you can cram in, the better. Things really got bad when Edison invented the light bulb in 1879 – now instead of going to bed with the moon and getting up with the sun, humans could set a standardized year-round schedule. Before we had light bulbs in every room, the average person slept for 11 hours a night- now, most Americans are lucky if they get 7 hours! Electric light bulbs have empowered us to sleep less, and get more done – and we are more hurried and anxious than ever.  

The Age of Busyness

The modern age could easily be called the Age of Busyness. Busyness has become a  badge of honor.  We associate busy people with stature: the busier you are, the more important you must be. 

Apparently back in the 60’s, some social theorists thought that technological advances would mean that the average American would only need to work 22 hours a week.  

In fact, some people were concerned we’d have too much leisure time! Most people with a full-time job are happy if they can get through the week in under 50 hours. Additionally, we Americans are infamous for not using our vacation time either. 

What little down time we actually have is snuffed out by our smartphones. The average person touches their phone over 2,500 times a day, totaling over 2.5 hours. Got a spare minute? Pay a bill. Standing in line? Check social media. At that meeting early? Watch a cat video. Pause in the conversation? Check the weather.  

Technology has given us so much! Instead of taking hours to walk places, we now have buses and cars to get us there in minutes – yet we are more hurried and anxious. Instead of lugging our clothes to the river, we throw them in a machine, yet we complain that we never have enough time. Instead of harvesting vegetables, we schedule an online grocery delivery, yet somehow we are busier, bothered, distracted, and rushed all the time.  

Somehow, all these time-saving devices have sucked up all our time.  But it’s not the technology’s fault: we chose the life we live. We choose to fill up our days with more activities, more stuff, more shopping, more appointments, more shifts at work, more entertainment, more tournaments for the kids…more, more, more. 

And the result? Less of that which is truly life. Less sleep, less peace, less joy.  Less time with the people we love, less time to sit in the presence of God. The modern American has virtually no margin – we have cluttered minds, hearts, souls. All of this has a detrimental impact on our attention span, thought life, relationships, inner peace, our lives. 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

One of the most renowned theologians and philosophers of the modern era, Dallas Willard says that to be spiritually healthy, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” This is the title of John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (where I got most of the above background facts). John Ortberg, who studied with Willard says in The Life You Always Wanted

“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”

There is a rushing current in the world around us, pushing us to do more, faster.  And when we seek to slow down and live a God-centered, distraction-free life – we are swimming against the current. And while the problem of busyness has exploded in the modern age, it is not a new problem.  

Busyness was a challenge even in Jesus’s day. And while Jesus had a more important mission than any of us – he had a full schedule, long days, and worked hard – but he was never hurried, busy, or distracted. Jesus was only ever focused on pleasing his Father.  

Some of his followers had that struggle, though.  Remember the story of Martha and Mary?  

Distracted with Much Serving

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” | Luke 10:38-42

Martha was serving Jesus, and serving is a good thing! But the problem was her distraction – the word literally means to be drawn away – her serving was drawing her away from giving her attention to Jesus. Jesus responds gently to address Martha’s heart, not her behavior. Her big problem is not that she’s making lunch, but that she’s worried and bothered about many things. Jesus says only one thing is necessary.  

There are many things in life that will distract you, bother you, make you worried and anxious. But only one thing is necessary and needed. We cannot let the many urgent things distract us from the one good, necessary thing.

One Necessary Thing

Christian, there is only one necessary thing for us: one necessary thing on which to center our lives. Martha’s problem was not that she was serving, it was that she was distracted with much serving. She was drawn away. What is the opposite of distraction? Attention!

Our one necessary thing is to give Jesus our full attention; to live a life devoted to knowing and following Christ as Lord.  

Of course there are many things in life – commitments, activities, jobs, responsibilities – that can make us anxious and bothered. There are many things that can distract you from giving Jesus your full attention.  

What distracts you from the one necessary thing? Look at your to-do list, your calendar, your schedule. Many of your responsibilities are probably good things, but are they distracting you? Are they filling you with anxiety?  

Here is a simple diagnostic question to ask yourself about all your busyness, routines, and priorities. Are these things keeping you from Jesus or drawing you to Jesus?  Are you allowing them to pull your trust away from Christ and lead you to anxiety? Are they overwhelming you and causing you trouble?  

It is a wonderful goal to give Jesus our full attention – but we still have to live life! We still have to get things done! How do we give Jesus our full attention – while also living life and getting all the other things done? Centering our lives on the one thing doesn’t mean everything else becomes irrelevant – but it does transform our perspective about the many things: what we invest in, what we prioritize, what we worry about. 

It means we give Christ our first and best time and energy. It means only doing the other things in life that don’t distract us from loving, honoring, obeying, and following Christ. And we seek to do those many things in a way that focuses our attention on Christ:  how you prioritize, the amount of time, your motivation, your level of attention, how much attention.  

Centering your life on faithfully following Christ doesn’t mean you don’t have a career; it means that career is not the center of your world where you give all your energy. It doesn’t mean you can’t watch a funny sitcom to decompress; it means that can’t be where you find your peace. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have hobbies; but those hobbies shouldn’t distract you from Christ, his church, and his work.  

In Matthew 6, Jesus said you can not serve two masters, you can only be devoted to one. He then says, 

Jesus came so that we could seek his Kingdom and live for one necessary thing. This is why he lived, died, rose again, and is returning. Jesus came to lay down his life because our hearts are broken, anxious, distracted. They are drawn away from God by the busyness of the world and our attraction to sinful comforts. Jesus came and died to free us from our distracted hearts. He rose from the dead to fill us with a heart that longs to be with him and seek his Kingdom. This is the one necessary thing that will give us eternal life and empower us for this life. 


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