A life lesson from a worm.
"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" (Matthew 6:1)
Yesterday Pastor Steve DeNeff at College Wesleyan Church preached a sermon titled "An Audience of One," which challenged listeners to consider "the audience" of others (see the full sermon here: http://www.collegewes.com/). This message, and Pastor Steve's discussion on "the discipline of hiddenness," led to today's devotional.
In Matthew 6, Jesus is preaching His Sermon on the Mount. In verse 1 He instructs his listeners to consider their audience (their purpose for doing 'acts of righteousness'), and then challenges them with three Jewish traditions (part of the Law) held to a higher standard: alms giving, prayer, and fasting. All Jews would have participated in these activities, but Jesus develops a higher standard: give to the needy in private (v. 3), pray unseen (v. 6), and don't make a show of fasting (v. 17).
Jesus's directions here are radical, considering the "holy" folks of Israel were the Pharisees, who ensured the public saw their religious piety demonstrated. Unlike these religious leaders, Jesus instructs listeners to continue pursuing holiness but hide it from everyone. Don't tell anyone, pray in a closet, and smile in the midst of hunger--and take pains to make sure no one finds out what good acts you do. But why? The good deeds we do are not for ourselves and they're not for man; they're an intimate offering to God.
Today, I found a tiny example of the hidden life buried in the topsoil of the earth. Worms like the one pictured above are critical for aerating and providing water circulation through soil, since they dig tunnels through the earth. And because they decompose organic matter in the soil and produce nutrient-rich waste products, the soil is naturally fertilized. This process of "vermicompositing" is essential to the healthy development of soil and plant life, but it's all done completely unseen.
These tiny creatures reflect the actions of our Savior, who not only commanded His listeners to give in private but also retreated after performing miracles, asking those He healed to remain silent about what they experienced. For most of us, our natural inclination--after doing a good deed or receiving a compliment--is not to hide away and present ourselves back to God. We want to share the "good news," even if we justify it as "affirmation" that we need for a self-esteem boost.
But Jesus promises that if we live the hidden life, our Father in Heaven will reward us. So when we're tempted to share our holiness (when it will not be directly glorifying God's faithfulness) with others, we need to present it to Him, then kill it, burn it, walk away from it, and wait for another opportunity of faithful service. Fight for Him in private and He will fight for you in public.