The church in which I grew up had a tradition of singing one particular song more often than any other. In the middle of the service, just before the pastoral prayer, we would sing "Take time to be Holy."
I used to think this was a terrible rut we had gotten into, but as I have grown older, I realize that what is a rut to some is a blessed good habit to others.
To a child, the slow cadence and soothing rhythm of the song may have the same effect as a bedtime story. But to us adults who fill our lives with frenetic activity, the words of the hymn are good advice to follow: "Take time to be holy, speak oft with the Lord; abide in him always, and feed on his word."
Perhaps our most important moments are spent in quiet prayer and meditation, listening for God to tell us what is the next important thing to do.
Thomas Steagald, in "Shadows, Darkness and Dawn," wrote, "We are busy, each of us, and together we all of us are doing various things in our various congregations, but all that holy activity, church busyness and business, may carry and keep us far from the Holy One. If we are not careful we will be like Martha in the kitchen - doing so many things for Jesus, so we suppose, that we do not have time to be with Jesus."
The story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) resonates with many people, especially women. Whenever I bring up this lesson, it is common for two or three women to take Martha's side. "I know how she feels," they will say. "It's just not fair! Jesus doesn't seem to appreciate all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make those moments for Mary possible."
Really? Jesus doesn't appreciate the work? Of course he does, but I can hardly blame women for projecting onto the male in the story their frustration of having to do more than their share of the work.
The issue at hand, however, is priority and perspective. The key word, used twice in the passage, is distracted. Martha was distracted by her many tasks. The work became the focus of her attention, rather than the purpose of the work.
Done properly and with the right mindset, even fixing supper can be an act of worship. So can taking the kids to soccer practice and doing the laundry and repairing the car. But they cannot possibly be acts of worship unless we first take time to be holy.
John Wesley famously said, "I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it." I envy his ability not to be distracted by many things, when there is only one needful thing. Whenever someone lists the seven habits of highly effective Christians (patterned after Steven Covey's well-known seven habits), prayer always ranks first or second on the list. It is not hard to see that prayer is an essential building block for discipleship. It is much harder actually to get into the habit. But like all good habits, it is worth working for. Take time to be holy, and the rest of the day will become more holy as well.
Brian Dale is pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.