Being on sabbatical is sort of weird. First it felt like a day off. Then like a long weekend. After a week, it felt like a vacation. And now, I begin to enter uncharted territory. The strangest feeling of all? No ministry responsibilities! That’s so strange. I feel relieved and guilty at the same time. It’s only just begun but I sense I will learn a lot during this sabbatical adventure.
These past two days I have been reading and re-reading Matthew 6. It’s one of those times where you sense God’s leading to stay in a certain passage and not to move on. To stay there, ponder, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. It’s been a good exercise. Something that really struck me reading this passage was Jesus’ teaching and exhortation about reward.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others 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 others. Truly I tell you, 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, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18
Some thoughts that came to mind were:
- Jesus never said that seeking a reward is bad. In fact, He said that the key was seeking out the right reward. That’s where I get into trouble.
- The temptation to seek out the approval, adulation, and applause of others is greater than I thought.
- God wants to reward me.
- More often than I thought or chose to admit, I see the approval, adulation and applause of others.
I pondered this passage, allowed the Holy Spirit to lovingly speak to me and opened my heart and life to His light. As I did, I realized how often I sought the approval of others. I knew this was something I did but not really to the extent I actually do! I do it with my wife. I do it with my kids. I do it in ministry. I do it being out and about in the city. With friends. With strangers. I even do it with my puppy. It’s been a real eye opener to see how I mixed up approval, adulation and applause with love. I am called to love. I need to love. I have been created to love. But I often mistake love with the desire to have people like me for what I do. Love is doing things motivated by care and concern for others. The focus is on others. Seeking out the wrong reward is motivated by my insecurity and desire to be liked. The focus is on me.
Again, allowing this passage to sink into my heart and mind, I see why Jesus contrasted the two rewards. He was warning us of something that can lead us down the wrong path. For right after teaching these things, Jesus said these words. Words I thought were unrelated and focusing on another lesson. But today, for now, it brought His lesson to me home.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19-21
“For where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.” There it is! That’s Jesus’ lesson and warning (in love) for me. “Be careful Mark, what reward you go after. Be careful what treasures you are storing up for yourself. Be careful because where your treasure is, your heart will there and that will be the reward you will go after.”
How wonderful God is to lovingly call me on something that will cause me to miss out on His very best for me. What an awesome Father, who would warn me like that! What a wonderful Lord and Savior and friend who would speak words, true words, to set me free! What an incredible Holy Spirit, who would lovingly and tenderly lead me into all truth.
It’s exciting to think that God has given me this time to focus on Him and to set me apart to learn to seek after true reward and to store up true treasures. What greater reward and treasure I can experience than the presence, the love and smile of God! But I can’t do this on my own. I am a people pleaser at heart. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to go after what is true reward and treasure. I need His power to truly abide in Him.
“Father, thank you for this journey. Thank you for your correction, warning, exhortation, instruction and even discipline. I am growing to believe that you really love me, that I am truly your son! Yes, you want the very best for me. But more than that, you actually want me. May I grow to believe that in greater ways. Thank you for your patience and love. In Jesus’ Name, amen!”
another step …