When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

An impression I regularly get when reading the New Testament is that its writers are always working to motivate us to live our short lives on earth in preparation for our long lives in heaven. This seems especially true in this passage.

Jesus points to giving and praying as anticipated activities of this brief preparatory phase of our existence. Yet, as always, He is not just concerned about the outward expression, He is concerned about the inward motivation which connects us to His heart and eternity. I believe, among many things, the Holy Spirit’s role as Counselor & Teacher is to help us see the why behind the what of our activity. He knows well what the calamity of the Fall did and how disabled our hearts are in our old nature in their ability and willingness to do the right thing for the right reason.

Since the Fall, along with raw pride, there has been a deep sense of rejection and insecurity embedded into our persona such that we are readily willing to sell our souls for affirmation and approval. Fairly recently, I believe the Holy Spirit went to some trouble in making me aware that a great deal of my activities throughout my life had been spent garnering the approval of men and avoiding the pain of rejection. This motivation set me up for trouble in the church where gold stickers, presentation bibles and titles await the faithful, yet insecure, doer.

I believe what Jesus is teaching us in this passage is that if our outward deeds are done, consciously or unconsciously, to gain the approval of men, which is a flip side of avoiding rejection, then that approval will be the extent of our reward. Jesus is saying that you can do this if you like, but if you do, your reward for these good works will terminate when the applause dies out. I believe the Holy Spirit, in His sovereign way, is always working beneath the surface of our lives, in the arena of our why’s, trying to teach us His way, inviting us to choose a path for our hearts that will lead to an eternal payment stream of reward.

In the past, I have spoken of an exodus from church, in the conventional sense of that term. George Barna and Wayne Jacobsen and many others have been writing about this for some time. I find this a painful subject because I have dear friends who have been part of this exodus. And, as one who has burnt out in the context of conventional church, and have been very tempted to join the exodus, I have, for the time being, just stayed put and tried to monitor what is going on inside me and around me.

As one who has gained most of the accolades church has to offer and slowly but thoroughly went spiritually bankrupt in the exchange of my works for approval, I can imagine a corporate scenario playing out where a collection of folks like myself, working out of the inferior and short term motivations for approval, could be providing the church with the money and man power that keeps it running. If this were true, it would create a kind of co-op of codependency where both parties, the buyer (church-worker) and the seller (the church) are being harmed in the transaction. If this were true, a large number of people would be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons, forfeiting the reward our Father in heaven aspires to give us and in the process, presenting something to the world that is far beneath the glory God intended for His Bride – The Church.

So; I am confronted with the question, “Should I remain a part of conventional church and contribute, by default, to a culture of codependency or should I walk away in protest of the local church’s many and well documented faults? As I said, in my burning out, I was trying to find out what God might be trying to say to me; to find out what was going on in me and then maybe I could better assess what was going on around me. This was my take away;

There was a phase I went through in my burning out that I was exceedingly frustrated and angry with the local church and its leaders (and I was even one of them). It would have been easy to walk away then. I had a list of reasons that matched those who had already walked away as well as those who were considering it. However, had I done that, I may have either squandered or delayed God’s work in my heart. I would have left having not dealt with my anger. I would have left postured as a victim who was not willing to take responsibility for his own heart. I could have blamed my burn out on the many weaknesses of the local church and its leadership. And, perhaps most damaging, I would have left with the judgements I had formed in my heart toward others. The cost of that choice (or transaction) would have been immense.

May your Spirit of Truth succeed in liberating us from every unworthy temporal motivation. Expose us Father where we are spending our currency on that which is not bread. Persist until our motives are refined and we are resting from our works in the security of Your great love. Amen.

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