PO Box 550170 Waltham MA 02452

  • Name Rev. Francis Balla, M.Div

  • Designation Pastor

  • Posted On 09-01-2010


Rev. Francis Balla, is the senior pastor of Evangelical Congregational Church in North Quincy MA. He served with Youth With A Mission in Hyderabad, India for twenty years. He holds a M.Div in Urban Ministry from Gordon-Conwell theological seminary. Please checkout the Church Website. http://www.eccquincy.org View all articles by Rev. Francis Balla, M.Div

  • THE GIFT OF SLOWING DOWN (Contemplative Christian living)

    Almost every one is busy. Whether a teenager pushing books under a heavy course load or a soccer mom driving kids to sports while managing a demanding job or a stay at home mom with small children, a corporate executive, a cab driver, teacher, a pastor, a self employed, rich or poor, Christian or not, we are over scheduled, preoccupied, fatigued and starved for time. The following poem explains how busyness squeezes the life out of you.” Time of the Mad Atom This is the age Of the half-read page. And the quick hash And the mad dash. The bright night With the nerves tight The plane hop With the brief stop. The lamp tan In short span. The Big Shot In a good spot And the brain strain The heart pain. And the cat naps Till the spring snaps -- And the fun's done![1] I wonder why such mad rush? Unfortunately, whether we admit or not we believe a notion that being busy is a sign of success. The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is, on the contrary, born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else--we are the busiest people in the world, but at what cost? What is that one thing we ought to do yet we don’t have time for it? Peter Scazzero the Pastor of one of the most thriving Churches in New York in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality explains what has contributed to the busyness among the Evangelical Christians, “Activism is the key explanation for how evangelicals came to dominate the English- Speaking world from 1850-1900. Working hard for God, “in season and out of season,” was expected for church members.” Jesus modeled a life of perfect balance between activism and slowing down. During his final phase of journey to Jerusalem before his crucifixion Jesus was involved in a whole range of hectic ministry activities. Let me unpack his ministry schedule (Lk 9-10): In a private meeting with Moses, and Elijah on the mountain top he discussed about his departure and his final mission in Jerusalem. He cast out an evil spirit from a boy. He solved a conflict among his disciples who were trying to grab his seat after he has gone. He sent out two sets of disciples one time 12 and another time 72 on a special mission and evaluated their ministry after they returned. He rebuked his overzealous disciples James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans because they refused to provide hospitality.Yet; in the midst of a busy schedule Jesus managed to find time to stop by his friend’s house to be refreshed. The narrative in Luke 10:38-42 unfolds the dangers of over busyness, the necessity of the gift of slowing down and what really matters in life. Luke 10:38-42 “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."


    Let me share the context of the story. Martha and Mary both are sisters. They had a brother named Lazarus. They lived in a village east of Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples often passed through Bethany and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. In this story Martha and Mary represents two approaches to the Christian life. Martha represents a Competitive Christian and Mary represents a Contemplative Christian. Martha has opened her home for Jesus; but then she became so busy in serving the Lord instead of being with the Lord. The story tells us that “Martha was distracted, literally meant burdened or drawn away” In other words her life was filled with do lists, and meeting deadlines. Martha’s life was fragmented, divided and filled with wrong priorities. Here duties have become disconnected from her love for Jesus. In frustration she complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then she ordered Jesus what to do She said “then tell her to help me.” Don’t we all carry a bit of a Martha’s syndrome? We work hard and at times over work in order to gain approval and acceptance from the Lord. When we become the center of our focus instead of the Lord being the center, just like Martha we indulge in self talk, it is all about “I, myself and me.” We can be obsessed with ourselves. We go one step further and even order God to fit into our plans instead of us fitting into His plans. Martha is a proto type of a person who over works in order to gain approval from God. We struggle with a desire for more time with God, but there is simply too much to do. In a high pressured world there is a lot of demand on our time. Our schedules are constantly getting busier and busier. One study shows that “The Americans work longer and faster than they did 40 years ago, and they take shorter vacations. Families in the 1950s could live on one income; today it often takes two. One out of every two Americans gets too little sleep.”[2] Peter Scazerro beautifully illustrated in his book Emotionally Healthy spirituality a life that is out of order and a life that is well balanced. When we spend more time in activities and only a little (no) time with God, then our lives become out of balance. Doing for God flows from being with God


    We often hear people saying I am so tired and exhausted. Which is may be true in this high paced world. But how often do we here people saying I am slowing down, taking time off to contemplate and worship God. Peter Scazzerro notes being contemplative means, “surrendering to God’s love, resting in his presence attentively, practicing silence, communing with God in solitude, and a life of unceasing prayer.”[3] We worship God not our work. Marva Dawn rightly observed why we should make God as the center of our worship, “To be Christian means to believe that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is everything to us- Creator, Provider, and Sustainer; Deliverer, Redeemer, and Lord; Sanctifier, Inspirer, and Empowerer.”[4] In the story we find that Mary lived like as if all that was mattered to her was Jesus and nothing else. We can tell that by how close she used to stay with Jesus. Mary was often seen at the feet of Jesus. Do you remember after raising Lazarus from the dead; six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany and came to the home of Martha and Mary. A dinner was given in his honor. Again Martha being who she was assumed the role of serving where as Mary found her way to the feet of Jesus and took a bottle of expensive perfume poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.(John 12:1-3) In our story where do we find Mary? At the feet of Jesus,’ listening to the Lord's word. That is the place and the position of a contemplative Christian. If we want to get to know Christ more, we need to get closer to him and listen to his word. Henri Nouwen, a theologian and a professor whose life had become a paradox. As much as he felt burdened by the demands of his busy life he lived in fear of the absence of activity. He had become dependent on the “compulsions and illusions” of his world yet he longed for a “quiet stream.” The quiet stream, of course was God himself. In order to find rest for his soul he left his busy and demanding schedule and went to live for six months in a monastery. Nouwen chose to leave the noise and activity of his life behind so that he could get nearer to God in quietness and solitude.” Can we make such sacrifice? In this highly digital world as Pete Scazerro says, “the global culture like a beast threatens to swallow us these days. The core values of the twenty first century tend to scream at us for attention for example computers, billboards, televisions, DVDs, I pods, music, schools, newspapers, movies, magazines and so on.” We falsely believe the notion that happiness is found in having things, the more things we have the more we will be happy. We work hard, sacrifice relationships in order to acquire things but in the end we are more dissatisfied and are never content. Then where does true happiness and contentment come from? Mary has learned the secret; she knew true happiness could only come when we listen attentively and act upon the word of God.


    Jesus had a few strong words to say to overworked Martha. He answered to her complaint saying, Luke 10:41 “But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, other rendering reads, “you are anxious and worried about many things.” “Anxious and troubled about many things; "you are worried and upset about many things, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details” What was he saying? Was he saying that Martha should stop all her work? Was he advocating idleness? Or was he saying stop worrying? No! Because Martha was distracted with so many things in one way Jesus was saying, Martha! Stop being distracted about life because life is more important than food and clothes. Jesus wanted Martha not to loose her Joy by loosing her focus; instead he wanted her to seek him first before anything else. Isn’t that what the Lord wants from all of us that. We would seek his Kingdom and his righteousness first? Mary seemed to have her priorities right; her heart was in the right place. We can be quite sure that Mary too would have gladly jumped to her feet and served Jesus his favorite food if He had asked her. Her work would have flown from a place of right relationship; she wasn’t seeking to prove anything to any body or striving for acceptance. Martha on the other hand let her work distract her from her relationship with Jesus and she was getting all irritated and worked up about Mary’s inaction. Mary chose the most important thing that was her love for God which won the affirmation from Jesus, “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” There are many things in life that can be taken away from us. Like Job we may loose everything in one day but nothing can take away our love for him and his love for us. This is what Paul meant when he said, Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Is life overwhelming you? Are you tired and exhausted? Is your work draining your joy, health, affecting your relationship with God and others? If that is true then it may be time to evaluate your priorities. Sit down and write down at the end of the day what truly matters. How could we regain balance in our life? Simplify, realize we don’t have to do it all, be it all, and have it all. Nothing you can do to earn God’s love; he loves you anyway. Practice contentment. Know your limitations. Create margins which mean creating space in your schedule to be refreshed, to spend time with your wife; help your children with home work. Disconnect the TV if you need to so that you can spend time in prayer and reading the Bible. Limit your internet. Take a day off to be alone with God. Above all remember your relationship with God other right relationships matters most. Amen

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