Four Reasons Why Serving Others Can Make You Resentful

I look around the kitchen and want to walk out of the room, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. I grumble under my breath. “Thanks for leaving me a mess to clean up. Unbelievable.”

Mary and Martha, challenges of Christian service, bad attitudes

Anger rushes in. Irritation sparks a flare of temper. Slamming pots, I practically throw the dishes into the washer and scrape something sticky off the counter. I don’t even want to know…

“How could they be so selfish, so thoughtless,” my inner tirade continues. Frazzled, all I can think is  people are coming over in an hour for Bible study and the house is a wreck.

Why is it so easy for serving others to stir up resentment?

Been there, done that? I think we all have. Consider this story Jesus told:

certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving…Luke 10:38-40 KJV

Some days I’m a Martha. I can Martha myself into a frenzy, whipping my to-do list like a weapon. That rumpled scrap of paper, filled with both the meaningful and the mundane, feels heavy in my hand. Thinking through the commitments of the week, inward pressure builds as resentment grates against my good intentions.

Mary and Martha, Luke 10, Challenges in ministry, Christian service, resentment

Four reasons serving others can make us resentful:

Reason 1: Good intentions become expectations.

I feel the good intentions of Martha’s heart. With the grace of hospitality, she welcomes Jesus into her home. The pressure of preparations to please and maybe impress, turn a blessing into an obligation. A gift into an expectation. Her desire to serve plays out with high expectations of both herself and others. Oh, yes I know this problem all too well. Do you?

When we feel cumbered with much serving, we often feel entitled to have others meet our expectations. After all, we’re the one sacrificing our time and effort to do the good thing of serving others. The least everyone else can do is appreciate our hard work and help out. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a woman on the planet who can’t relate to this situation.

Reason #2: Over-commitment and lack of balance in serving.

Though cumbered isn’t a word we use much anymore, we live its meaning all too easily on the days that our tasks outnumber our time and energy. Cumbered, used this one time in Scripture, means to drag around, to draw away, to distract with care, to be over-occupied, or too busy about a thing.

We can be too busy with many things and we can be too busy with one thing.

When our service begins to feed our feelings of self-worth, when serving becomes something to prove ourselves, commitment can warp into preoccupation. When this happens, the good thing of service becomes consuming.

In this context serving is a feminine noun (interesting) relating specifically to Christian service. This word opens its arms wide, ministering to others. It works hard, called by God to proclaim and promote religion among men. Serving also includes assisting in the church, helping with charities, or preparing food.

Mary enjoys the moment, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His words. Needless to say, while the food is still cooking and the table still needs to be set, this doesn’t go over well with Martha.

“Lord, is it of no concern to You that my sister has left me to do the serving alone? Tell her to help me and do her part.” Luke 10:40 AMP

Reason 3: Our agenda and needs become the focus.

Was Martha slamming dishes with the not-so-subtle hint of “Sister, get in here and do your fair share!” Did she stomp around the kitchen in a self-righteous fury? Did she interrupt Jesus in the middle of his teaching or did she wait for a pause?  When our focus narrows to how tired we are or what we’re not getting, resentment grows.

Reason 4: A critical mentality breeds resentment.

Notice how Martha has drawn a line of right and wrong with her expectations. She is right to serve and Mary is wrong for not meeting Martha’s expectations. What started out as a partnership of shared service between sisters has become divisive. Criticism creates sides of us against them.

Isn’t it easy to do the same thing?

The situation in these few verses is replayed again and again through out time. In our homes, in our churches, in our ministries, and in our work, we can all struggle with the problems of the heart that come with being too busy about a thing.

Which reason for resentment have you struggled with?

Joining in with these blogging communities: Coffee for Your Heart, #ThreeWordWednesday, #TellHisStory, and Thought Provoking Thursday.



  1. I burned myself out so badly serving the last 10 years at church, that when I got laid off in September I stepped out of mostly everything and am having a hard time going back to serving. I’m still working through my “issues”.

    • Burnout is another topic that definitely relates to this passage. I am continually amazed at how much God teaches us in these snapshots of Jesus’ life and words. You touch on the significant topic of the need for rest and healing when we experience burnout. As you let God refresh your spirit, I pray that he will show you new ways and new inspiration to serve joyfully at the right time. Was just thinking of you this morning. So nice to hear from you today, Barbie.

  2. Great message. God has put this very message on my heart also. I started writing a blog about it. (still working on it) God must want this message to go forth. Thank you for listening to His heart my friend. I fall into the serving trap and lose joy. I try to wake up now thanking God for the opportunity to serve Him.

    • What a simple and practical habit to stay focused on gratitude and opportunity. This is definitely one of those topics where the spiritual sometimes collides with the practical. Let me know when you publish your post!

  3. Oh Ginger … this is just spot on! I spyed myself far more than I wanted to in your wise words.

    I’m appreciative … Convicted in a few tender places, too.

    • I write from the things God is teaching me, so I don’t pretend to be the expert here. I think we can all see some aspect of ourselves in this. May God bless your efforts to serve others with grace and love.

  4. Ginger,
    Oh how I say I want to serve, yet I don’t do a very good job of serving the very colleagues I’m surrounded by in my office! I’ll be pondering your points and continuing to pray for a perspective of God’s heart for others to be poured out on my own.

    • What a great prayer. It can be difficult to balance the work with must do with taking the time to serve others. Whether in the office, in the church, in the home or the neighborhood, we can learn to serve wisely, depending on Christ to empower us to do what He gives us to do.

  5. Good thoughts, Ginger. The biggest one that I probably struggle with is my *own* expectations. I expect too much from myself, and set myself up for exhaustion (…and, ultimately resentment.) Mary and Martha…those sisters sure do have a lot of lessons for us modern-day women, don’t they? 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Ginger. ((blessings))

    • Yes, Brenda, they certainly do! I often think I can do more than I actually have time and stamina for. I’m much better off when I take time to pray before making commitments.So glad to connect with you today!

  6. I can really relate to this feeling! I do not find joy in serving. There I said it! Still, Jesus came not so much to be served, but to serve…so we keep fighting the good fight against the flesh! It is good to examine these thoughts and feelings and compare them to the Word—thanks for doing that today! Stopping by from Coffee for Your Heart 🙂

    • You’re so right,our flesh often doesn’t want to serve. I’m frequently how often my flesh and negative attitudes can sabotage my true and good intentions. I’m so thankful that we can keep taking those resentful feelings and lay them aside. Thanks for visiting today!

  7. Ouch, girl! Number 3 definitely hit home. When I feel resentment rearing it’s ugly head and my tongue getting a bit sharp, or impatience lurking, I try to remind myself IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!!! Oh, my, it’s SO not about me, lol! Great post!

  8. Ginger, I couldn’t really focus on the whole blog because the line, “I can Martha myself into a frenzy” stuck in my mind! You’ve made Martha a verb! That’s brilliant—sad, but brilliant. I’m going to use that when I start doing instead of listening and resting. How appropriate that my name is Mary. I’m a little of both. Oh, and btw, the slamming pots thing? I do that. I mutter under my breath just loudly enough so the Hubbles can hear, but then when he jumps up to fix whatever I’ve decided that he’s broken, I feel terrible and guilty. Poor man. UGH!

    • My slamming pots doesn’t work, it just makes me look silly. I love it when God writes a funny phrase in the midst of exploring a scripture passage with my writing. Sometimes they just roll out, and I often wish they’d show up more often! I’m a little of both of these women as well. Thanks for joining me today.

  9. I have often felt sorry for Martha! I know the point of that story is that we need to focus on Jesus, but people gotta eat! Someone has to cook! As you pointed out, it’s the attitude behind the serving that is important. Visiting from #threewordWednesday.

    • So glad your visiting today, Kristen! You’re so right–people gotta eat and work has to be done. I’ll be posting more on this next week. This is one of those topics that would have been a forever blog post if I didn’t break it up! Martha’s going to get her recognition. I’m totally not slamming on Martha–just saying I relate to her in this moment because I’ve been there.

  10. I relate too. Your 4 reasons are all applicable to me, at one time or another. I think I’ve improved over the years, but it’s been a trial and error experiment most of the time. 🙂 Thankful for God and his grace for helping us grow through this!

    • I have to remember that conviction is not the same thing as condemnation. When I catch my feelings veering this direction, it’s easy to feel guilty. The best thing is to simply confess and ask God to give us a right attitude and wisdom to make His choices in our service. Thanks for joining in the conversation, Lisa!

  11. Ouch! I’m guilty of #1 and #4. Thank you for the reminder that it’s not about me and doing for others doesn’t mean I ‘get’ something back, nor should I criticize those who I think don’t do as much as I do.

    • This is such a real struggle at times for our flesh battles against our spirit and our “want to” points inward instead of Godward. I’m right there with you. So glad you’re visiting today, Anita!

  12. Probably all. 🙁 I can get caught up in the stress of what I am doing and snap. Not pretty!

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