Have you ever had someone throw you a surprise party? Did it work, or did you find out? Have you ever planned and successfully pulled off a surprise for someone? When I was in high school, my junior year I think, my good friend and I were headed to the mall for a regular time (can’t remember what exactly) on a cold winter day. We stopped first at his girlfriend’s (also one of my best friends) house, and he said I might as well come in because he had to help her with something. When I went in and walked upstairs, a large commotion occurred and many people yelled “SURPRISE!”. There they were, my youth group and other close friends, all huddled together in a living room to celebrate my upcoming birthday. I still have the gift that they all chipped in to get me (a new tennis racket which I used my senior year and a little in college). It was a great day, and all the better because it was unexpected. It made me feel special and loved.
Throwing a surprise party for someone is tricky work. You have to be careful to not let on to the person that anything is out of the ordinary, and you have to make sure you, and others, don’t take the temptation to spill the beans in excitement. I don’t know why that is hard, but something about keeping a delicious secret puts humanity to the test!!!
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus teaches many important things. In the middle of all His teaching, found in chapter six, Jesus covers three important areas of Christian life and growth: Giving, Praying, Fasting. In all three of the areas, Jesus points out a common thread…. There is a temptation within all of us to get attention, acceptance, and applause from others. Jesus describes some who give who cannot help but do it with flair or share about it with others. He describes some who pray who do it in a way that makes them look good to others. Finally, He describes those who fast who make it obvious to others that they are fasting in order to get the desired applause from others their hearts seek.
Why is this a draw, a pull, on humanity? What is it in us that cares so much what people think of us that we would be tempted to flaunt a spiritual practice in a way that brings benefit to ourselves? A needs-based assessment used in counseling is a series of questions that are used to help the participant specify core drives/needs in their lives. Acceptance, love, significance, recognition, respect, security, admiration, and appreciation are all deep needs within the human heart, and, when unmet, can drive our behaviors in strong ways.
Consider a very deep well with me for a moment. Picture yourself tremendously thirsty. You take a bucket and lower it down into the well, but are only able to pull up dark water, half sand/mud. Out of desperation, you drink some of it, but, unsatisfied, you long for more and you repeat the process again and again. Each of those eight areas mentioned are like wells within the human soul. If we find one of our wells lacking in ample good water, we tend to seek (and often manipulate) others to add to our supply from their own wells. The needs are genuine, and so we work to find ways to quench our thirst.
Returning to the words of Jesus, he explains that in all three areas (giving, praying, fasting) this same essential phrase applies…”if you do these things for men, you will get what you are seeking from them, but if you do them secretly so that only you and the Father know, you will be rewarded.”. The word for reward in this section of scripture implies compensation or wages. Jesus is explaining that if you do these spiritual practices to be seen and admired by people, you will get the pay/compensation of human praise, but if you do them in secret, you will receive the compensation/wages of God’s blessing.
Back to the wells. Each time we do things for the praise of people, it is like handing them a bucket and asking them to pour from their own wells/resources into ours. Problem is, their wells are murky and muddy just like ours, thus the reason a person is never satisfied. HOWEVER, if we live out the actions of our faith for the Lord, in the secret quiet places of the human heart, it is like handing Him a bucket and receiving a long satisfying drink from the river of life. God delights in us when we delight in Him. In a way, each time we seek Him with all our heart, it is like throwing a surprise party for the Lord, presenting Him with our love and affection and choosing to hold Him in the special place of our lives. In response, we are rewarded with the company of His life-giving presence and Spirit. While it may seem to take more time, effort, and intentionality to pursue the rewards God alone can give, they will be the only ones that leave us truly content. As we do so, we will find our faith growing more and more, because our actions are achieving the true desires within.
How to sum all this up? Performing for or working to manipulate any other person (especially those within our own homes) will leave us with a thirst of the soul. Taking time and effort to do things for the Lord with our lives, will leave us connected, satisfied, and stronger in faith. Next time you give, take time to pray, or cut something out of your life to create more room for Jesus, maybe you should begin by saying to Him, “SURPRISE!!!”