Thursday, February 14, 2013

In Secret

Matthew 6:1-6
1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I remember listening to a comedian years ago (I wish I could remember who it was) who was talking about how a woman will clean the house, do the dishes, make the meal, help with kids' homework and all their many troubles, and never asks for recognition for these things. But a man will get off the couch, clean an ashtray, and announce it, looking for praise in his efforts to help out. While this is a little sexist, I think we've all met people like this.

I can name many people who attend church every Sunday, and make sure it is known to everyone that they have done this. They read the Bible and pray in public, making sure people see this. They want people to recognize and pat them on the back for being such good Christians. And it is often these people who spend the most time criticizing and looking down on those who don't attend church weekly, or those whom they don't see read the Bible or pray.

In Matthew, we are told to do these things in secret. This doesn't mean we shouldn't go to church, or pray in public, or attend Bible study. It doesn't mean we shouldn't spread the Word of God, or revel in that Word. To me, it means we should look inward as to why we are doing these things. Are we doing them for praise, or are we truly doing these out of love for God and a spiritual desire to be closer to him - to know and be known by him?

I read a sermon earlier which told a story about a child who was told to clean her room. She came out five minutes later and informed her parents the room was clean. Suspicious, they went and checked. Sure enough, the room was spotless... until they opened her closet where she had shoved everything. I've had my own children do this on many occasions. Toys and clothes and books - all thrown in the closet or shoved under the bed. At first glance of the room, yes, it was clean. They did as they were instructed to do. Yet when you looked deeper - when you looked inside - it was a mess.

How many of us are like this? We do what we're told - we provide service for our community. We help our neighbors. We do all the "good" things we're instructed to do. But it's so it  looks good. Inside, we're messy. We didn't provide service or assistance because our hearts were filled with love for those we helped. We didn't provide these services because we had a desire to do God's will. We did them for praise, and put in as little effort as possible. As little internal effort as necessary.

Matthew 6 instructs us to clean out those closets and under our beds before we clean up our room. It tells us to look inward at our motivations and desires. God already sees those motivations. He knows what is in our hearts and minds. Doing things just to look good on the outside isn't going to hide what's in our hearts and souls from God. It isn't going to fool him. He isn't going to look down on us and say "Oh good! You went to church. You're saved." He is going to look into our hearts and recognize that we loved him, our neighbors, our enemies, and did good works out of this love.

Lent gives us a chance to look inward, and strengthen our inward motivations. In my last post, I spoke of giving things up during the season of Lent to spend more time on focusing on our Lord. I stumbled upon a few more good ideas of what to give up which can help bring us closer to God.

This isn't the full list from the sermon "An Excuse to be Better", but instead are the points I feel are worth mentioning here in regards to helping strengthen our hearts:

* GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.

* GIVE UP looking at ether people's worst points. Instead, concentrate on their BEST points for a change. We all have faults. It will be easier for people overlook OUR shortcomings when we overlook THEIRS first.
* GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Check that sharp tongue at the door.

* GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."

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