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…but only one thing is necessary… Luke 10:42a

There is a famous and long-running radio program in the United Kingdom called Desert Island Discs. Each week a well-known person is asked to name the eight discs (recordings) which he or she would take with them if they had to spend the rest of their lives alone on a desert island. At the end of the program they are told that in addition to the discs, they can choose one thing to take with them. The answers are quite revealing of the person’s priorities in life.

When Jesus was spending time at Martha’s house, she was busy doing many good things while her sister Mary was sitting with Jesus listening to his teaching (literally the text implies “yielding to His authority.” Luke 10:39). In commending Mary for choosing to wait and listen rather than to be busy, Jesus said to Martha: “one thing is needed…,” which by implication was what Mary was doing.

How often do the demands of the client or the judge or even the church—or just the general relentless busy-ness of our daily lives—cause us to miss the “one thing” that is needed for us to become most fruitful? Without waiting and listening and yielding to the authority of Jesus, the activity and cares of the day will easily cause us to become anxious and distracted from the purposes of God. The worldly man often equates busy-ness with importance, but God’s ways are not our ways. Men are impressed by activity whereas God is impressed by obedience. Without hearing and sensing His word and His directions throughout the day, we are likely to find ourselves doing what seems good to us (and to many others) but not necessarily the unique things that the Father has planned for us to do that day (Ephesians 2:10).

Just as the choice made by the guests of Desert Island Discs often gives insight into their real priorities and hence their character, so it is with some of the personalities in the Bible. David says in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask of the Lord. That is what I seek, that I may live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. . .” Was it something to do with the fact that David’s highest priority was to live in God’s presence (not to offend or grieve or quench Him) every moment of his daily life, that caused God to call him “a man after His own heart” in spite of the times when he seriously failed?

In Philippians 3:13 Paul says: “One thing I do (it is my one aspiration), forgetting that which lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s greatest desire was to take hold of that for which God had taken hold of him, and not to allow the limitations of his past determine his future.

If we are truly to do the works that God has prepared for us before time began, and to press on, no matter what the failures of yesterday may have been, then we need that burning desire to live in His presence all through the day—and for that to happen, “only one thing is necessary”—the way of Mary rather than Martha.

“The enemy of the best is not the worst, but the second best.”

Christopher J. Smyth

– This article comes from AI’s “No Higher Calling,” a devotional for lawyers.