“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.” – Matt 6:1
There’s something inside of us that demands recognition. We hate when our good works go unnoticed. We hate when we’re not appreciated. If we’ve been attending church regularly, we want others to know. And if we tithe, we want others to know “what a sacrifice” we’ve made (perhaps by engraving it on a gold plaque designed for the walls of the church we’ve been attending regularly). In other words, we demand recognition. It’s hard to be virtuous when no one else knows.
And yet Jesus tells his students, his apprentices, his disciples, his agents, his mountain-climbers to do their good works in secret. “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” (Matt 6:6). Prayer, fasting, tithing, spending time with the disenfranchised, etc. – do it in secret Jesus says. In other words, Jesus tells his disciples not to perform for others. He wants them to perform for their Father alone – to perform for an Audience of One. Jesus tells us to live our lives as if only God were watching. And Jesus promises us that we will be blessed beyond measure if we learn to live this way.
Every fiber of our being cries out against the “secret service” that discipleship entails. And yet Jesus is clear: “learn to perform for an Audience of One, and you’ll be blessed beyond measure.” And here’s why: performing for our heavenly Father alone sets us free.
It’s so easy for our lives to become one big exercise in expectation-meeting. In other words, we all appreciate having other people’s respect. We love being “thought well of” so to speak. But when our life becomes one big effort to maintain respectability, to keep our “thought well of” status, we become the worst kind of slaves. And we worship a God of freedom. Performing for an Audience of One is what “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” is all about (Rom 8:21).
Think for a moment about our desire “to be seen.” We want other’s approval. Perhaps our desire wouldn’t be so strong if we grasped the reality that “we have been approved by God” (1 Thess 2:4). We want other’s acceptance. Perhaps our desire wouldn’t be as strong if we grasped the reality that “the one who serves Christ is acceptable to God” (Rom 14:18). In other words, performing for others is a symptom of a greater problem – a lack of faith. We lack faith in a God that approves of us, that accepts us, a God who sees in secret and who desires to reward us personally.
FOR TODAY: Do a good work, some form of secret service, for God’s kingdom. And don’t tell anyone. Make a real sacrifice – whether it’s your time or your money or something else. But sacrifice something. And pay attention to how badly you wish someone else witnessed it. And then be joyful as you realize that Someone Else did.