Have you ever felt like a spiritual imposter? Like you need to become someone else (or pretend to be someone else) to serve God or do some ministry?
I had a bad case of it last year. I had just become the secretary for our Christian Union, and I was painfully aware of what a person in this role ‘should’ look like. I was also deeply conscious of the inspiring example that my predecessor had set and I felt as though I had to conform to the expectations of others in order to prove that I was ‘worthy’ for the role.
I found myself working as if I was performing for an audience. It’s easy to deceive yourself when you work in that manner, and it’s easy to equate diligence with devotion to God
Consequently, in those first few weeks, I found myself working as if I was performing for an audience. It’s easy to deceive yourself when you work in that manner—because when you think that the eyes of the world are on you, you work diligently, and it’s easy to equate diligence with devotion to God (even when it is anything but that).
Unsurprisingly, I found myself getting exhausted and anxious all too easily. I thought that I couldn’t relax for a moment because I was so afraid of letting the façade drop. I was afraid of being exposed as a fraud, both in terms of my spiritual maturity and my competency. I was desperately trying to prove that I fit some mould of what I thought ‘should’ be. And, at the same time, I had convinced myself that this anxiety was somehow selfless and God-glorifying.
Then, in the lead-up to preparing a devotion for a committee meeting, God revealed the true state of my heart. He did it through a small, but well-known Bible passage, one that I —and I’m sure, many of you—have read a thousand times. It’s from Luke 10:38-42:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
That phrase in verse 40—“distracted with much serving” –resonated with me more painfully than it ever had before. Martha was like me! She too was governed by a powerful sense of what she ‘should’ be doing in order to fulfil a particular role – in her case, the role of the meticulous hostess. What she was doing wasn’t bad in and of itself (and we know that hospitality was a staple of Jewish life with roots in many of the OT commandments), but both she and I were guilty of looking in the wrong direction. Martha was distracted by this duty of hospitality and, more than that, she was becoming anxious and troubled by it to the point where she lost sight of the One she was meant to be doing it all for.
The gentle rebuke that Christ gave Martha cut straight through me. I heard Jesus’ voice in that passage, telling me to choose what is better; what cannot be taken away; the one thing that is truly necessary—the ‘good portion’, as he called it.
What is the ‘good portion’? What exactly was Mary doing? In that passage, we see Mary doing two very simple things: (i) sitting at the feet of Jesus and; (ii) listening to His teaching.
You see, Mary recognised that Jesus—the Word who became flesh, God incarnate—was in her house. Rather than falling into the trap of ritualistic ‘doing’, she listened to God’s Word and let that shape her service. In John 12, we see the fruit of that listening, when Mary—showing a complete lack of concern for her own dignity—anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair in preparation of his burial.
Mary recognised that Jesus—God incarnate—was in her house. Rather than falling into the trap of ritualistic ‘doing’, she listened to God’s Word and let that shape her service.
My prayer is that this—rather than worldly models of productivity—would serve as the model that we seek to imitate. Only listening to Jesus can free us from the anxiety of trying to meet other people’s expectations.
Unfortunately, that rebuke in my first few weeks of secretary-ing didn’t provide me with a one-time reset. But it has shown me something that I have had to keep on earnestly asking God to help me with, day by day and event by event. I have to keep on asking myself what sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His words looks like for me now?
There’s no single, cut-and-dried answer for that—it’s different for each of us, in different contexts. For me, sometimes sitting at the feet of Jesus just means actually listening to and concentrating on a Bible talk when I’m helping organise the meeting. Sometimes it looks as simple as reading my Bible after a busy day. Generally, it means ‘being present’ rather than preoccupied when it comes to God’s Word.
Ministry is a great thing. The desire to serve Jesus and make him known is a beautiful thing. But it can easily become overshadowed by our tendency to get distracted. As soon as we make our service itself the focal point, our perspective turns inward.
So whether you’re feeling a strong sense of imposter syndrome, whether or not is your natural disposition to get distracted by the ‘doing’, I encourage you to recognise what is necessary above all else, and choose the good portion which will not be taken away from you.