When Christ came to the home of Mary and Martha, he and those with him were provided with a meal. The story is told in Luke 10:38-42
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me."
And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
You are worried about many things. Only one thing is needed. You are distracted by many things, and they draw you away from that which is most important. As Rich Mullins said, "The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance that I owe only to the Giver of all good things."
The stuff of earth doesn't just have to be possessions. It is often the esteem of your fellow human beings. It's often the desire to be though well of by others. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. It's only a bad thing when it draws you away from God.
As we move through this world we have opportunity to accumulate many things and interact in many different ways with many different sorts of people. Those things are mostly good in and of themselves. But when they distract us to the One to whom we owe all obedience and worship, the good becomes bad. Nothing is evil in and of itself. It is good. But it is only good if it remains in its proper place. When it departs its proper place, it becomes wicked.
Many of us have allowed things to depart from their proper place. Because of that, I'm going to begin a series of essays on Christian simplicity. Most of us are about to have at least a measure of simplicity crammed down our throats by circumstances, whether we particularly want it or not. That may be the occasion for discontent in our own hearts. We must not let it be so. We must learn to kiss the rod.
The one great maxim of Christian peace in the midst of turmoil is "Kiss the Rod." God is in charge of all of your circumstances. God has led you to the place where you are. God has put the things in your life that are there on purpose. God has done it for your good and His glory. Don't murmur and complain. Don't merely submit grudgingly to that process. Embrace that process as your Lord's divinely ordered wisdom for your discipline and wellbeing. Kiss the rod.
In the late 19th century, a writer named Jerome K. Jerome wrote a book called Three Men and a Boat. It's a comedy about three men who plan and take a trip up the River Thames in a boat as a vacation excursion. What follows is an excerpt that's relevant to our discussion today:
The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable; so we tore the list up, and looked at one another!
George said: 'You know we are on the wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can't do without.'
George comes out really quite sensible at times. You'd be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.
How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha'pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with --- oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! --- the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like all the criminal's iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!
It is lumber, man --- all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment's freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment's rest for dreamy laziness --- no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o'er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lillies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.
Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need --- a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work.
I believe the Second Great Depression is the judgment of God on a profligate and wicked nation. At the same time, I believe it is His loving discipline on His church. God's people have become worldly. The good Lord is about to take away a lot of the fuel for that profane fire. One way for the Christian to kiss the rod in this time in history is to accept whatever economic trials God brings into your life, and to do so graciously. The loss of a job. The loss of a house. The reduction in income. Vacation plans spoiled, or the delay or even abandonment of some cherished purchase or dream because the money simply isn't there anymore. Education plans deferred. The necessity of family members moving in with you, or of you moving in with them. All of these can be occasions for resentment. All of these are opportunities to kiss the rod.
But how much better to do the things "on your own," so to speak? How much better (and cheaper!) to take your life to Him in prayer and ask Him to help you reorder it so that the things which distract you from Him are dealt with. The Lord does not need to pry things out of our hands when our hands are already open. Do you need four cars? Do you need a 4,000 square foot house? Do your children really need to spend 30 hours per week running all over the countryside playing sports? Do we really need to profane the Sabbath day with activities and jobs and recreations that profit neither soul nor body nor pocketbook? So much of what we have going on in our lives is useless lumber. It is expensive and time consuming. It draws us away from God. Chuck it overboard voluntarily, and perhaps the Lord will not need to take greater measures in the future to force you to do so.