What's my motivation?
We like to be recognized, especially for doing good things. There’s nothing wrong with receiving a compliment for a job well done…unless your aim was to get a compliment.
Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses several areas where we may have the outward appearance of being mature or spiritual, but instead our motives behind the behavior is misplaced. His point is that improper motives will prevent us from receiving a reward from God. One area where he calls out our motives is prayer:
Matthew 6:5-6 Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This isn’t a prohibition on praying in public, rather this is instruction to make sure our motivation for praying in public is the right one. We should not be praying with the secret aim to be seen by people. That’s what makes us hypocrites…acting like we’re talking to God, when really we’re just talking out loud with our eyes closed, hoping that others notice how “spiritual” we are.
Rather, Jesus instructs us to go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. This is both practical and makes sense. If I’m focusing more on what others are thinking when I talk to God than I am focusing on my conversation with God…then the best remedy is to completely remove all other people from my conversation time with God.
Jesus doesn’t stop there, however. If we choose to engage God in prayer for the right motive – that we actually want to talk with him – Jesus says that your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Ok, but what’s the reward? In these verses, Jesus says that both the hypocrites and those who pray in secret will actually get what they are aiming for…the hypocrite will be seen by the people immediately around him, and that is his “reward” will be found in the opinion of others. On the other hand, those that pray in secret to God, in order to spend time with him…they will also get what they aim at, namely a relationship with the King of the Universe! That “reward” has benefits in this life and in eternity future. The hypocrite’s motivation and perspective is much, much too small…and he misses out because of it.
If I only hold my wife’s hand when we’re in public, if I the only time I act interested in what she has to say is when other people are watching, or if I only say “I love you” when I know someone else will hear me tell her…while it may appear that I have the perfect relationship with my wife, the exact opposite is true and I’m living a lie. The only benefit I receive is that someone thinks that I’m a good husband. However, the truth is that my wife would feel isolated and alone, with nothing but a sham of a relationship with me. The right way to have a relationship with my wife is to do all those things, even when no one is watching. The reward for doing those things is a genuine, deep relationship with my wife – and that kind of relationship will be readily apparent to others.
Jesus is pointing out that when we’re more concerned with what others hear in our prayers than who we are praying to, we lose the ultimate reward of fellowship with God!
So let’s “go deep” with God – pray to him in private, purposely get to know him intimately and away from all other distractions. If we do so, the public side of our relationship will take care of itself.