One night as I sat praying, I found myself thinking what a waste spirituality is (in one sense). Case in point, there I was, sitting, doing nothing. Not long ago I wrote that much of my prayer time is taken up just sitting with the Lord, feeding on His presence. There aren’t many great revelations; no visions for how to take the world by storm; no deep groanings or intercessions for those in need. So I have reached new levels of waste.
But I am in good company. When Martha was working hard to wait on Jesus one evening, she complained because Mary sat at Jesus’s feet listening to Him. Why was Mary wasting time and making Martha do everything? But Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Another woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’s head. Some of the disciples complained that the perfume could’ve been sold for a year’s wages and used to help the poor; they began to scold her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body in advance for burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said he was being poured out as drink offering on the sacrificial service of their faith (Php. 2:17). Under the old covenant, priests got a portion of everything offered to the Lord. If an animal was offered, the priests got a portion of the meat to eat. They also got portions of grain offerings, and most other things sacrificed to the Lord. But the drink offering was dumped out, wasted. No one benefitted from it. Paul wrote the Philippians from prison. While they served the Lord and benefitted countless people through living sacrificially, Paul was confined and wasted.
Many non-religious people see spirituality as a huge waste. Think (from their point of view) of the hours wasted on prayer and Bible study; think of the Sundays wasted on worship instead of leisure. Think of the energy wasted on morality when we could‘ve been pleasing ourselves however, whenever, and with whomever we wanted. Think of the jobs and opportunities given up because we chose to orient our lives around Jesus—our culturally-sanctioned imaginary friend. What a waste.
But to those who put time with Jesus ahead of busily serving, Jesus says they have chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken from them.
To those who have been criticized for valuing Jesus over social justice, Jesus says, “Leave them alone. They do a beautiful thing for me.”
To anyone whose potential seems locked up, who feels they could do more if they were only allowed, the Lord says, “You are poured out to me alone, and benefit me.”
And to all of us who have (in the eyes of the non-religious) wasted time, energy, and opportunity for the sake of the Spirit, Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?” (Matt. 16:25).