The sales professional was really trying to “connect” with me. He found out where I lived and named a few landmarks to show his familiarity with ‘my’ place. After inquiring about my work as a pastor, he talked about his own involvement in his church. He is a good guy but he wasn’t really interested in building a real friendship. He wanted to sell me a truck! Making me feel like his friend was a part of the process; and I would be forgotten the moment I signed the contract. His motives were about profit, not about me. (I did not buy the truck, by the way.)
Jesus spoke of a similar kind of insincerity that involves something far more serious than a sales transaction. “Some people,” He said, “do their ‘acts of righteousness’ just to be seen and to impress others, not from pure devotion to the Lord.” Ouch! That criticism stings because all of us, at one or another, has done something ‘religious’ for reasons other than worship, haven’t we? He addressed the religious leaders piety in three areas – giving, prayer, and fasting – to teach us about genuine ‘religion’ in our lives. “Don’t turn it into a show, an act to gain applause,” He said.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:1-3, NIV) Being charitable is a laudable, a worthy part of a Christian’s life. Generosity that flows from thankfulness, from love for the Lord and others, from compassion for the needy is to be part of how every Christian lives. But, if we feel the need to get our name on a plaque, to have our gift praised, or to give more when offered some public recognition; our charity is tarnished by self-interest. God will not bless such giving because we already have the reward we really desired – applause and admiration! Pure giving will be richly rewarded – “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” I love to know the smile of my Father, don’t you?
Similarly, Jesus warned about praying better in church than in our own bedroom! “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:4-5, NIV) Let’s be clear. Jesus is not condemning prayer meetings. Corporate prayer is a blessing. When we pray with others, the power of heaven is released. He tells us to find 2 or 3 to agree with us in prayer. Jesus was condemning prayer that is addressed to the crowd instead of the God on His Throne! If we feel the need to change our voice, to speak in multi-syllable words, to add rhetorical flourishes in our public prayers – we are missing the point of true prayer. And, once again, Jesus tells us that when others admire our piety, we have our reward. God doesn’t need to answer those prayers because we were not really talking to Him anyway. “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6, The Message) Some of the most profound prayers I have ever prayed were of few words, formed more with tears and sighs!
When we are focused on honoring the Lord, on devotion rather than appreciation, our piety takes on a deeper quality and pride is robbed of the power to make us offended! Oh, what a glorious thing. How many times have we done the right thing for the wrong reasons and then, when others failed to show the kind of gratitude we think we were owed, our soul turned sour? Is that godly? Is that really how the Spirit would lead us?
Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian, reminds us that our worship is best offered, not as a performance for people, but for an Audience of One. He said that we always must keep this in mind; that God is the audience of worship, that we are like actors performing not for each other but for Him, and that those who ‘lead in worship’ are only there to serve as prompters, hidden as it were in the wings, unseen, unnoticed. This is not imply that our lives should not have a quality and beauty about them that is notable. Jesus said “let your good deeds shine out for all to see.” Why? So they will think we are something special, so they will admire our devotion? “No,” He says, but rather “so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16, NLT)
What a paradox! When I forget myself in holy service and devotion, the Spirit infuses my generosity, prayer, and piety with a life and quality that attracts attention – but for the One living in me.
Lord, make me pure and holy in my motives.
Forgive me for robbing You of Your glory by
seeking admiration or attention that belongs only to You.
Jesus, help me to dethrone Self and enthrone You,
giving away myself with no thought for appreciation or approval.
Help me to be content to know Your smile. Amen
Give me one pure and holy passion.
Give me one magnificent obsession.
Jesus give me one glorious ambition for my life;
To know and follow hard after You!
To know and follow hard after You,
To grow as Your disciple in the truth,
This world is empty pale and poor,
Compared to knowing You my Lord,
Lead me on and I will run after You!
One Pure And Holy Passion- Mark Altrogge
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