“And your Father who sees in secret will reward you..”
(Matthew 6:4 (ESV)
Oh, how sneaky Satan can be!
The last couple of weeks we have been reading through Matthew 6, the section of the sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about hypocrisy in our acts of devotion. Jesus warns us, not to stop doing acts of devotion like alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, but to be very careful that these acts are not done for the recognition and praise of man. If you are performing for the applause of man, that that will be your sole reward. However, if you are performing for the eyes of God, then your soul will be rewarded.
The problem is, this is a very tricky thing. Satan, that “sneaky-sneaker” (a literal translation of “more crafty” in Genesis 3), likes to take the good things that God has given us and encourages us to abuse them. You say you love the law, then Satan begins to make you a legalist, holding others to a standard that you could not even hope to attain. You say you love the freedom that is given in Jesus Christ, then Satan tempts you to a lawlessness in which anything goes. You say you love the traditional, long held beliefs of the Church, then Satan lures you into an inflexible orthodoxy that is all head and no heart. Satan cannot offer you anything, he is not a creator; but he will always try to twist and pervert that which God has created so that we love the gift more than the giver. You say you love the new contemporary movements within the Church, then Satan draws you into a shallow, vacuous, “experience” in which a lot of words are said but little is communicated.
I was thinking about this on my run this morning. “Who am I running for?” Well, I’m running for my family – I want to lose weight and stay healthy so that I can enjoy watching my kids (and, eventually, grandkids) grow and be successful; and enjoy a long life beside my loving wife. But then vain-glory creeps in and I become obsessed with my weight and if I’m “looking better.”
I’m running for the goal of completing a marathon, and hopefully running several over the next few years. I’ve wanted to do this since I was in High School, and I’m only now reaching the point where that seems possible. But then, while running, I find I like to be noticed. I see other runners and I pick up the pace a little. I make subtle references to my running(or in this article’s case, not so subtle), so that others will stop and say – “Good for him, he’s running.”
What a mess.
We do the same thing with our lives of devotion. We like to say to people, “As I was spending time in prayer and devotion this morning…” as a way of demonstrating our excellent religious affections. We put bumper stickers on our cars like (WWJD, and “God is my Co-Pilot) to make sure everyone knows that this is a Christian’s car. We carry around Bibles stuffed with notes and highlighted through so that everyone knows we’re serious about our study – or we get new Bibles with all the footnotes and the genuine hand sewn leather cover so that others can see how you value God’s word.
Friends there is nothing wrong, in fact I encourage you, to pray and study God’s word every morning, to put as many bumper stickers on your car, to highlight, annotate, and study the Scriptures; against these things there are no laws. But always keep your heart in check. Make sure that your devotion is a time of sweet fellowship with the Lord; a time to hear His word for your life, and a time to offer thanksgiving and praise for His life.
Your life of devotion should be a lot like the time you spend with your spouse. You share quiet moments together, working through the difficult times, encouraging each other and supporting one another, whispering words of love and adoration, developing a life-long relationship. These are the moments shared between the two of you, never broadcast for others to see. How inappropriate it would be for someone to say, “While I was whispering sweet nothings in my wife’s ear last night…” But what the world does see are two people who are madly in love with each other, and who will be together until death does part them.
So it is with your devotion to God. Let your acts of prayer, charity, and dedication be done in secret. Let it be the quiet, intimate time with God that sustains you through the day. Don’t broadcast it to the world. Do this, and the world will see someone who lives in the love of God, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from that.