Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Better Way

Title: The Better Way
Author: Conrade Yap (20 Jan 2010)

“"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42)

One of the hardest things to experience is to be an unknown. I remember a time when I was doing cold-calls to new customers in my sales portfolio. At one famous firm, the gatekeeper to the CEO, a secretary curtly says to me: “I don’t even know you.”  Earnest pleas simply fall on uninterested ears. No matter what I say or show, nothing can convince the secretary to let my team meet the big boss. Being an unknown in any industry is tough. Nobody knows you. Nobody wants your products. Small unknowns begin with a serious disadvantage compared with giant corporations with offices worldwide. Big doors remain shut to unknown midgets like me. Many things of this world belong to the rich and the famous, or the well connected.

Facing Rejection
In contrast, when we start throwing big names we are associated with, people pay attention. In the public arena, this is the common practice. An unknown author co-writes a book with a famous name and the book sells by the thousands. An unknown actor become famous when associated with an Oscar winner. An unknown product gets the publicity when endorsed by a rich celebrity.

Another way to avoid rejection is to work in a famous company. I remember among my MBA friends, that one of the most sought after jobs are in the investment banking industry and management consulting companies.  Just becoming an intern in a blue chip firm like Accenture (formerly Anderson Consulting) or any of the Big 4  (used to be at least 8) accounting firms is a ticket to professional stardom. I remember trying for one but fail to get beyond the first interview. Facing rejections is one of the hardest pills to swallow. On hindsight, I think I may have given myself too much big-headed pride to even expect to get a shot at the rich-and-famous. It is simply not for me.

In times like these, I take refuge in knowing that someone will always accept me. Of course my family will stick with me regardless. I know friends who are willing to put aside their fame and big celebrity status, to shake hands with a small unknown like me. For a reject like me, simply being accepted is a big achievement already. People who work with children with disabilities share that there is a public misconception that disability is a disease. In fact, people with disabilities are not exactly asking for a cure. The majority simply asks for something simple: Acceptance. Acceptance is a path toward the better way. We begin to address rejection by first accepting ourselves, and to know that the LORD accepts us as we are.

Martha and Mary
I have preached on this famous Martha-Mary story before. After my sermon, a lady in the congregation actually came up to thank me for giving her a new insight to this old familiar passage. I was talking about NOT comparing busy Martha with contemplative Mary.  It is in desiring Jesus, regardless of our Marthalike-state or Marylike-behavior. Like what many adults will say: “There is no right or wrong answer.” My point then was Jesus accepts us as we are. It is not what we ‘do’ that interests him. It is who we are that attracts him. Jesus looks at the heart. In other words, the story is not about choosing a contemplative lifestyle over a busy lifestyle. It is about choosing Christ, regardless of our busy or contemplative moods. In other words, the key at the foot of Christ is to begin WHERE WE ARE. It is in feeling accepted. The better way is the way of acceptance. Mary chose the better way, to be accepted as she is in Christ.

Martha seeks to find acceptance through the many household chores she do. When she realizes that she is the only one doing them, instead of speaking to Mary directly, she talks past her sister to ask Jesus to ‘tell’ her sister to help her. There is a tinge of unhappiness that Mary is doing nothing, while she is doing everything. For many of us, we understand where Martha is coming from. If everyone sits down like Mary, who is then going to prepare food for the important guests? However, what we miss is the attitude of the heart behind the request. Martha is already allowing her unhappiness to fester on, toward a dislike for her dear sister. This attitude is demanding and in some ways, self-centered. For Martha, the ‘right’ way is her way. It is her stubborn refusal to consider other ways that Jesus has to intervene by saying; Mary has chosen the better way, in Christ.

Being Accepted in a World of Strangers
In life, we are measured by what we do, almost all the time. Externally, it is very tough being a nobody especially in careers that require high visibility and salesmanship.  Internally, it is worse to envy others more successful than us. Sometimes, I too wish that I am better known. When this happens, I remind myself with these questions:
  • Can you handle success?"
  • "Are you able to handle fame and fortune and still remain humble?
  • "Will you be spoilt by success?"
  • "Will God's Name be better glorified through your strengths? Or your weakness?"

When we switch our infatuation with the world, and to start moving toward contentment in God, we are on the right track to the better way. I am encouraged by the Canadian evangelical writer, and current pastor of Moody Church, Dr Erwin Lutzer who writes:

Better to love God and die unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than to die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost than to have done nothing and succeeded at it; better to have lost some battles than to have retreated from the war; better to have failed when serving God than to have succeeded when serving the devil. What a tragedy to climb the ladder of success only to discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.’ (Erwin Lutzer, Failure: The Backdoor to Success, Moody, 1998, p136)

Lutzer's description of the better way blows me away! What a reminder that it is better to be an unknown in the world, and to be accepted in God. What a reminder that contentment is better than great riches. What a revelation to check our ladders, whether they are leaning on the right wall in the first place. The key to the better way begins by not being distracted by the world. Neither is it trying to gain acceptance by doing lots of big projects in the name of God. The key to the better way is in the simple knowledge that God loves us as we are. God loves us regardless of our size and shape of our achievements. God loves us, as we sit at Jesus’ feet, simply adoring him.

Your Choice of a Better Way
Are you struggling with the issue of being accepted in your workplace, your home or any particular comminity group? Do not despair, my brothers and sisters. Even when you encounter failures, or when you feel rejected by those you respect, you know that God accepts you. In Christ, He has already accepted you, before you were conceived. Jesus loves you just as you are, especially when you come with a humble and contrite heart. Remember, the better way is not in terms of which path to take, but the attitudes you wear before the throne of grace. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)

Thought: The ways of the LORD are infinitely better than the waywardness of the world.


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