What is Worship? Worship is expressing your love for God. The Bible says that loving God is the most important thing we can do. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). When we express our love for God (in every possible way) we are worshipping him. Our English word ‘Worship’ means ‘worth-ship’, denoting the worthiness of an individual to receive special honour in accordance with that worth. In other words, Christ being the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, is worthy of everything that we can give to someone who is of the status of the Most High!
Worship is not restricted (as many think) to our personal prayer time, and definitely not to the mere singing of worship songs. If we say we love God then we must express that love all the time and in every possible way. In short, ‘worship’ is a way of life. Can you imagine a guy telling his girlfriend, “I love you, but let’s not tell anyone about it. We’ll just keep our love a secret. We will enjoy each other only when we are together in private. When we’re around other people we’ll just pretend like we don’t have a love relationship. And if we get married then I’d like you to agree that we’ll continue keeping our love a secret.” Do you think the girl would be happy with such an arrangement? Of course not! When you love someone you naturally want to express your love to them. You want the world to know about your beloved. This is a natural outflow of an inner reality.
If you love God you will never be ashamed of him. You will want to express your love of God and your love to God, in as many ways as possible. “God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due” (ccc 2703). But let us look now at Mary, our object lesson in this article. We find the same Mary at the feet of Jesus on three different occasions in her history, each one full of the deep insight and instruction. Let us look a little at each of them in their order of appearance.
Firstly let’s look at Mary in Luke (10:38-42) “Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received 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 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; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.“
Look at the description of Mary’s position & occupation. She sat, and she listened; she watched Him, and from that close distance (at His feet), she could see more than anyone else, His attractiveness, His holiness, His love for people, His love for His Father, His care, His concern, His authority, all of which put her in awe of Him. As contrasted with Martha, Mary’s heart was at rest, she knew she had found the Messiah and there was no way she was going to be distracted with anything else.
Martha was encumbered with service and was busy doing things for the Lord. Her heart was therefore restless and distracted. A restless Christian is one who is usually encumbered with the “service of the Lord” and will be of limited use to the Lord in the long run. Usually we are unable to sit at His feet, because our hearts are encumbered with serving Him, or with sorting out problems at home, office, health, or wealth. But Mary was absorbed with the “Lord of the service” and Jesus alone was the object of her affections and love, because her heart was at rest needing nothing and no one else to quieten her. It is impossible to make the Lord our object of affection when we are an object in ourselves, or while our hearts are restless and encumbered.
So the enemy of our souls will see that lots of things are on our plate to keep us busy. He will use any means to see that Christ is excluded from that one sole exclusive position which is His, namely, the sole focus, motive and object of the heart. He knows very well that ministry or service will keep you away from sitting at His feet. The Father permits all this to happen to teach us something – and great is the day when the realization dawns upon us that our loving Heavenly Father is more interested in our being than our doing.
In the story before us, Martha was encumbered, and the Lord told her she was anxious and troubled about many things. As yet she had not learned to sit restfully at His feet; she was anxious about how best she could serve His body. Mary sat at His feet, in peace and quietness — heard His word — thus meeting His heart and thoughts; her heart is at rest, her eye is turned towards Him, and her ear is opened to His voice. She is absorbed; He is her one object, she has but one thought. How blessed it is when this discovery is made – All other things are distant, secondary and usually unnecessary. “For that He is the object of worship is clear to everyone, because to worship belongs to the creature, but to be worshipped to the Lord of the creature”. (John Chrysostom – Homily 33 on the Gospel of John 4:21-22).
Another Look at Martha: Martha’s interest was not selfish, she was genuinely concerned about Jesus’ welfare; and she busied herself to serve Him, but the great difference was: Martha served Jesus according to her own thinking; whereas Mary consulted His heart and served Jesus according to His thinking, according to what He wanted and approved of, therefore Jesus said, she has chosen the better portion. The result was that the service of each was different. One did not impress God, the other pleased His heart. With us, it is the same.
Secondly, let’s look at Mary in (John 11: 1-44) : The death & resurrection of Lazarus: Here we see Mary portrayed at His feet again, but as a mourner. Lazarus had become sick and died. The death of a family member is always occasion for great grief & bitterness, no matter how spiritual we may be. Look at Mary here in John 11, and first notice how such grief & bitterness does not break her rest: “Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him, but Mary sat in the house (v.20).” But as soon as this message reaches her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you…. she rose quickly, and went to him.” (v.28-29). She tarries for His word, His call, even in her deep sorrow; and as soon as she receives His word, she moves quickly. How blessed it is to wait upon the Lord for His call. But this is not all, for as soon as she reaches Him, she casts herself down at His feet (a well known spot to her evidently) with the simple statement on her lips, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died (v. 32).“
Look at the contrast in the ever restless Martha. When she heard that Jesus was coming she went to meet Him, her heart & mind filled with thoughts of the relief which she might get from Him. And she said: “And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (v.21 & 22). The restlessness of a self-centered heart manifests itself more during a time of sorrow and bereavement. As seen in Martha, relief is the highest and best thought we can think of at such a time, if the heart is not at rest. [This is not to say that looking for relief in a time of deep sorrow is wrong, not at all, but it is just the contrast between the two that we want to note]. But not so Mary; she finds her comfort, and resource in Him, at whose feet she cast herself. And He spoke to her in this moment of sorrow and anguish, thereby actually filling the loss in her heart with Himself. Mary had found the greatest secret that every worshipper finds, that in their hour of deepest grief and need, Jesus Himself fills the void and becomes their total resource, their everything, their all sufficiency, their all in all. What is important to note here is that Jesus had not yet mentioned that He was going to raise Lazarus. That would have been the easiest thing to say in order to bring comfort to someone you love. But no, He Himself wanted to be her comfort, her only resource in her darkest moment and He meets that great need in Himself. This is what prompted David the worshipper to say likewise “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear not evil, for thou art with me…” (Ps 23:4). (See also how Paul received comfort in God Himself (2 Cor 1:3-4). The wide difference between Mary and Martha in John 11 was that the former found Him to be her resource, whereas the latter looked to Him only as someone who must provide her needs constantly.
Thirdly, let’s look at Mary in (John 12: 1-36) – The Costly Ointment: Here we see Mary again at her favourite spot “at his feet” on yet another occasion. In the first two instances above, He was the contributor. In the first, He was the object of her worship and adoration and in the second, he made Himself her comfort. But here in the third instance, the scenario changes.
The entire chapter of Jn. 12 is talking about the imminent death of Jesus that seemed to be looming up all around. In the earlier chapter (Jn 11:45-57) the Pharisees and others were plotting to kill Him. Here in Jn 12, the disciples were also discussing it and finally in that classic verse of (Jn 12:23-24) Jesus Himself let’s out the suspense by saying: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. While all the others were busy discussing and interpreting His words, while Martha was still serving the Lord (for she hadn’t learned yet), the one who was at His feet – Mary – got up and took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment (Jn 12:3). In the earlier incidents, He had done something for her, but here we find the constant sitting at His feet in worship and beholding Him as her only object of affection had turned her into a worshipper who no longer was content to just “receive”, but now eagerly wanted to give Him back some evidence of her deep devotion, admiration and love.
And so she takes nothing ordinary, but the costliest nard that she possessed, breaks it as having no value for herself and spends it upon The Master, her beloved one. Nothing was too costly for Him whom her soul loved. THIS IS TRUE WORSHIP! Similarly spoke David in 1 Chron 21:24 – saying “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor burnt offerings which cost me nothing”. True worship is costly and a true worshipper pays the cost in full. It does not come overnight, it is developed by daily sitting at His feet, by daily choosing the good portion.
There are always the others, who would ridicule the true worshipper, saying that the nard should have been sold and money distributed to the poor. These are those who only have man’s needs at the centre. They do not understand that a true worshipper pours himself out for his Lord. True worship is loving the Lord God with all our hearts, minds and soul and expressing that love in very tangible ways that always has HIM and HIS needs at the centre.
It was not the cost of the nard that God looks at (though it was not missed by Him), but the attitude of the heart that spends itself completely for the One being worshipped. She made His heart and His desires the object of her study, not her own. This is the great secret of true devotedness. Usually when we render service to Christ it is based on our own wishes and desires. But Mary’s worshipful action was the outcome of having made Him the sole object of her focus and communion. No matter what we think about worship, the truth is that true worship springs from the object of our focus. If the object of our focus is service, then we are worshipping “service”. But if Christ (The Light) be our sole object and focus, then we are single-eyed toward Him and our eye is sound and our bodies are full of light, and it is Him that we worship. But if our eyes are not sound (single-eyed), then our whole bodies will be full of darkness, plunging everything that we do into despair and unfruitfulness (See Mt 6:22-23). When we want to truly worship Jesus, it has to start with the heart, a heart turned toward God without hypocrisy or deceit and in spirit and truth. A heart that puts its’ focus on Christ alone. Finally, you may be unable to worship God in spirit and truth because something else, or someone else, has first place in your heart as in the case of Martha. Any other idol (including spiritual ones) makes true worship impossible, because there is only room in our hearts for one “first”. That first place has to be occupied by Him alone as shown to us through Mary’s life.