The holidays provide a useful microcosm illustrating the truth that people very frequently get so caught up in their activities that they forget the actual purpose for those activities.
Days which are meant to be festive days of joy, spent in celebration with friends and family become stressful affairs filled with angst, anger, and frustration. People are so busy worried about whether or not they can get the right present, they forget to spend actual time enjoying the person for whom they are getting the present. They worry and stress so much about making sure all the food is ready for everyone to eat at the big dinner that they forget to show demonstrable love to the people for whom we are doing all that cooking.
The inspired Proverbs remind us, “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) If holiday meals are filled with rancor and bitterness, then you are doing them wrong. You have forgotten the purpose of the exercise. Ditto for all the other aspects of the season
This is not, however, a problem isolated to once a year. We see symptoms of it in a variety of walks of life. For instance, parents who spend so much time working to provide for their children that they neglect raising and training their children. They have forgotten the actual purpose of parenthood, the purpose of family. The joys and comforts of home are not found in a multitude of physical goods, but in the love and joy spent spending time together.
A similar thing happens sometimes in spiritual matters.
The gospels relate the following account to us: “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.’” (Luke 10:38-42; NKJV)
A lot of people sympathize with Martha, but the Lord makes it clear that Martha had her priorities wrong. She had forgotten the purpose of His visit. Jesus was there, not to be entertained, but to teach. Mary was there, not to participate in the entertainment, but to learn. Mary had chosen the better, more fulfilling path.
Now, in Martha’s defense, the Lord loved her very much, as we learn in the Gospel of John (cf. John 11), and the Lord corrected her so that she would choose better, which we should assume she did. And her lapse provides a biblical reminder to us: make sure to focus on the important things.
We can get so caught up in various activities throughout life, that we lose sight of our purpose. We are not placed on this earth to make sure that we feed ourselves every day, or accumulate as many possessions as we can. When we die, and stand before the Lord, giving an account of the things done in the body, so many of these things will become relatively meaningless. We will see they were merely tools meant to help us fulfill our actual purpose.
At the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, we have a reminder of this fact. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; NKJV)
Our purpose is to develop a proper relationship with God. Everything else is merely given to us to facilitate this purpose. Just as we can get so busy during the holidays and forget the purpose of fostering loving relationships with those around us, so too can we become so busy with the activities of living that we miss the whole point of life.
But when we do this, missing the forest for the trees and forgetting why we are there in the first place, we have wasted our time. It all becomes “for naught.”
Let’s be sure not to do this, in small things or large. Spend time with the people you love, remembering their importance in making the moment actually matter. Even more, spend time building the proper relationship with God: in fear, reverence and obedience, making your life actually matter.
The church of Christ invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.