BY CHRISTINE KUANG
Matthew 26:6-13 depicts the story of Mary, who takes a pint of very costly pure nard and pours it out on Jesus’ feet. There are two things to note: first, she pours it out onto Jesus herself. She did not ask someone else to do it; she did it herself, showing her love to Him directly. Second, this pint of pure nard is probably Mary’s most prized and expensive possession, and yet she pours it all out onto Jesus and Jesus alone.
But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
(Matt. 26:8–9, NASB)
And they rebuked her harshly.
(Mark 14:5, NIV)
The disciples thought the perfume could have been better spent by selling it and giving the money to impact many. If God called you to minister to just one person in your entire life, would you see your life as a waste? A waste of your abilities, intellect, and gifts? Because “why not take that same amount of time and instead of impacting only one person, impact 100 people? Why not produce more ‘fruit’ if you can?” Would we rather sell our lives to the work of God so as to impact many, or take it and offer it as a living sacrifice for God to use as He wishes? The results to both choices may be the same – furthering the work of God – but the process and motivations are very different, and God cares about our motivations (1 Cor. 4:5, NIV).
If we’re not careful, we’ll start having the mentality that the more people we impact, the better. The more things we do, the better. The greater the impact we have, the better. Certainly, we want to steward our resources well, but there is a difference between doing what we ourselves believe will further the kingdom of God the most and what God actually calls us to do.
When we get caught up in this mentality, we start subtly believing that time spent with just God is a waste. We won’t ever say that it is a waste, but our actions speak louder than our words, particularly when our time with God is, so often, disproportionate to the time spent on things not of God. If we held intimate, quiet times with God as truly a first priority, what would it look like? I believe it would look like the way the beloved takes whatever free time she can to spend with the one she loves, telling him about her day while listening to him talk about his. It would look like the toddler who cannot bear losing sight of his mother; no matter what he is doing, he needs the assurance that his mother is close by. He never stops running over every few minutes to see what she is doing and show her the little trinket that has been intriguing him.
When we truly are lovers and children of God, we will not only want to spend alone time with God; we will need it. And it’s never one-sided: neither the lover nor the child is satisfied with just telling about themselves; they desire to hear from the other. Can gifts and nice gestures substitute for time spent together, even if it’s just delighting in the other person’s presence in quietness and stillness? We often overlook spending time with God in quietness, waiting on Him, and delighting in His presence while He takes delight in us. Love is the common bond between the lovers’ relationship and the parent-child relationship, and it is this kind of love that should be at the very heart of our relationship and service to God.
It’s easy to substitute actual love with service, and God’s been challenging me a lot with what He really desires from me in terms of loving Him. Can I love God apart from His work? Can I stop everything, sit at His feet, and just seek Him alone in His temple? (Psalm 27:4, NIV) Or have I started to love His work more than He Himself? Through His answers to much prayer, God revealed to me that this year will be spent on just Him in prayer, waiting, and meditation on scripture, rather than serving in a position with a title. Just Him. It was not until then that I realized how deeply I had been setting my identity as a Lover of Christ and Child of God on the things I did for God rather than on how much time I spent being a Lover of Christ and Child of God.
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt. 26: 10-13, NASB)
Mary’s story demonstrates that time spent on just God is never wasted. All that Mary did and all that she poured out was on Jesus himself. One person. And Jesus not only speaks up for her, but praises her for it. Not because she gave to the poor, not because she preached a good sermon or brought hundreds to Christ. But simply because she came to Jesus herself, and poured out her treasures, her best, her life on Jesus. She gave her all to Him. Nothing spent on just Jesus is wasted.
And that’s what I’ve been learning. That to “Love the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart and with all [my] soul and with all [my] mind” (Matt. 22:37, NIV), I must give Him my all. Even if I could be taking all that time to impact more people, when God calls me to Himself, it is not a waste. Just like when God led Paul into the Arabian desert for three years after his conversion, it was not a waste. It was during that time in the Arabian desert that God revealed to Paul the explanation of the Gospels as he has set forth for us in his epistles.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers states, “If I am devoted solely to the cause of humanity, I will soon be exhausted and come to the point where my love will waver and stumble. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity, even though people may treat me like a ‘doormat.'” Only once we have truly learned to love God with our all and apart from His work, can we truly serve Him out of that love. We can always serve without love for God, but we cannot love without serving Him, because that’s part of love, delighting in pleasing the loved one through serving.
I’m learning to give the gift of love just as Mary did, to give my all and not to mind those who may be indignant with me. To love Him and Him alone, and have Him speak for me as He looks into this wretched sinful heart of mine and yet sees that one desire to learn to love Him and Him alone. For the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7, NIV), my heart and your heart.
I pray that today before we devote to the causes of Jesus – justice for the poor, rights for the weak, etc. – we’d be devoted in love to Jesus alone. That we would love God not because His kingdom seems to align with our social justice goals or humanitarian ambitions and so can serve as a big banner under which we may justify our work, but simply because He loved us first and gave His one and only begotten Son to die for us so that if we believe, we may have salvation and be counted righteous through our faith. May we learn to pour out our lives and our all as a gift of love to God first, to know Him and be known by Him, so that our service may truly be out of love for Him alone and that when we come before Him on that day, we’ll hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23, NIV).