"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." Matthew 6:6 (NIV)
After finishing a big project at work, I was pretty proud of myself. Although most of my part had been behind the scenes, I hoped someone had noticed. The next few days, I checked and rechecked my emails and texts, waiting for an "atta girl" or "well done" message. But none came.
I wasn't really bothered by the lack of acknowledgment until another person completed one small task as part of my bigger project. Then I was copied in a round of emails where that person was praised effusively.
While I joined my thanks in the responses, my heart got a little dent in it when my name wasn't mentioned.
The lack of notice hurt more than it should have. And over the next few weeks, my feelings got hurt with increased intensity each time my work wasn't noticed. Shoes on the floor that I picked up, dirty dishes I washed that weren't mine, the dinner I cooked after a long day. The original hurt was growing.
When I finally broke down in tears one quiet Friday afternoon, I realized something had gotten mixed up. Somewhere over the past few months, my heart had gotten bent out of shape when I didn't receive praise from others.
Jesus talked about this very topic in Matthew 6. He specifically taught about our motives when doing good deeds and cut right to the core issue in verse one: "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" (Matthew 6:1 NIV). Jesus knew our hearts can get twisted. Even the right behaviors can start with wrong motives and end with harmful outcomes.
In those days, many religious leaders made a big show of their good deeds in order to garner the respect and admiration of others. Jesus called these people "hypocrites" and taught how doing great things, like giving to the poor and praying, can go awry when motives are bent out of shape.
Rather than leave off with a stern warning, Jesus gave them, and us, instructions on how to do right things in the right way.
Verse 6 says, "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."
Jesus wasn't saying don't ever pray out loud; He was giving the key to break our desperate need for approval. According to Jesus, we receive God's approval when we fly under the radar of others and don't parade our deeds in front of them.
While working on that big project, my time alone with God had been almost non-existent. I managed to read a few Bible verses before bed and whisper a few prayers during the day. But the truth was, I'd neglected time with God. I'd exchanged His whispers of approval for the inconsistent and unfulfilling applause from people.
I needed to get alone with God, and quiet my desire for the world's feedback, so I could hear His voice.
One word from God is worth more than a hundred atta-girls from others.
The next time disappointment creeps up when I'm overlooked, or I think "Why not me?" ... I'll see it as a little warning. It's my reminder to spend time with God in secret.
That's where I'll get the only approval my heart really needs.
Heavenly Father, thank You for seeing what I really need and want. The approval of people never satisfies. Help me to see it as a poor substitute for Your approval – which brings me true joy and meaning. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond: Why is the approval of people often more important than God's esteem of our work?
What is one thing you can do in secret this week to try and break the addiction to applause from others?
Power Verse: Romans 8:5, "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." (NIV)
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