Stop Standing at the Street Corner
by Kristina Matz
I’m sitting down to write after an incredibly long day. Round two of upset tummies has hit our home and I spent a lot of my day climbing stairs to check on our two little girls and get them what they needed. As the night drew to a close and I was finally able to tackle the dishes in the sink (and on the counter, and on the stove…), I suddenly heard the cries of our sweet toddler. “Ugh…” This was my honest first thought. My body is tired and I was not looking forward to heading back up the stairs. (This could mean a need for some exercise, but I won’t look that far into it.)
Heading back down the stairs tonight I found myself fighting the same urge I have been fighting all day. The urge to TELL SOMEONE. To call or text a friend. To tell my husband. Just to vocalize my great sacrifice. I find within my heart a great desire to be seen. To be affirmed. To be praised. My true satisfaction for this need is only met in my sweet Savior, but I am often at odds within my soul on days like today. As I turned my heart over to the Lord and began to tackle the mess in my kitchen, I was reminded of this sobering passage from Matthew.
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. ” - Matthew 6:5,16
Work for an Audience of One
These hypocrites that Jesus warns about in his Sermon on the Mount were doing their “good works” for the praise of men. Their hearts were revealed in their attention-getting schemes and Jesus says that “they have received their reward.” What a devastating thought! Their deeds were righteous, but their hearts were caked in sin. This is what I become when I find myself longing to be seen in my service, waiting for my “atta girl” from the world.
Years ago I attended a Women’s Retreat where the topic was Heaven. It was an amazing retreat and after every message, there was so much richness to be digested and talked through with my fellow sisters in Christ. I can still remember sitting up late in our room, my roommate and I, talking about this weighty passage in 1 Corinthians.
"Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” - 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
As a Christian, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, I can be completely confident of my salvation (John 10:28). Scripture also teaches, however, that I can receive rewards or suffer loss for the good works that I do on this side of heaven. My good works are meant to bring glory to my Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16), but the temptation is strong to use them to bring myself glory. When I look at our passage from 1 Corinthians I am reminded that I could fill my days with wood, hay, and straw, service to others in an attempt to fill up my own glory, and end up suffering a loss on account of it. I long greatly for the rewards that Christ offers, that I one day might lay my crowns at the feet of my Savior in great worship and adoration of the King (Revelation 4:10). But this will only happen if I consistently train my heart to long for the applause of One, rather than one hundred lesser praises.
Remove the Safety Net
I used to operate with a notion that I had a “sin safety net”. For me, this safety net was my husband, my mother, and a couple of close friends. I had convinced myself that it was safe to “vent” around them and to express my overall displeasure with my current circumstances. But the truth is, venting is another way to say complaining. And expressing my overall displeasure is another way to say complaining. And when Paul writes to the Philippians and charges them to “do all things without grumbling [complaining] or disputing” (Phil. 2:14) he doesn’t include a “safety net” clause. Sin is sin. Again and again, this is a truth that we need to be reminded of. There is no tolerance of sin by a holy God (1 Peter 1:16). Whether I whisper my grumbling heart to my husband or shout it from the rooftop of our home, it is still sin.
"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” - Proverbs 10:19
I have prayed this prayer many times, and will need it still countless more this side of heaven…
"Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” - Psalm 141:3
So then what am I saying? Am I really saying that it is wrong to talk to our spouses and close friends about what is difficult in our lives? The answer will always come back to one simple word: motive. Why are we opening our mouths? Why are we letting careless words spill out onto the floor? If we need help and are seeking true biblical counsel then I believe we must seek it. We must seek it first in our times of prayer and in the Word of God, but we are also wise to use the resource of God’s people at times. But, truth be told, when we are seeking only biblical counsel there is much that can be left unspoken. The greatest counsel we could receive will come from a person who has heard the realities of our own heart and our own sins, with much fewer details about the people and circumstances that surround us.
Grumbling, however, tips the scales far the other way. We spend a great deal of time discussing the people and the circumstances with very little, if any, time devoted to the condition of our own heart. Grumbling is self-focused. A true desire for help is others focused. The cry of our hearts ought to be one of pleasing God in all we do because He alone is our Rock and our Redeemer.
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” - Psalm 19:14
Work for the Well Done
The truth is that, more than anything else, I long to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) But there is still a very real tension that exists within me. Within all of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
"For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” - Galatians 5:17
The desire that comes from having the Holy Spirit dwell within me (2 Timothy 1:14) is very much opposed to the sinful flesh that I am still encased in. But I am grateful that Paul does more than just point out this obvious struggle to the Galatians. He instructs them on how to overcome this struggle.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” - Galatians 5:16,22-24
The solution isn’t new. It isn’t something I’ve never heard before. It is the same unending truth that was true for the Galatians and is true for me today and will continue to be true as long as the Lord tarries. We must walk by the Spirit and, through His power, live lives of obedience. And we can only learn and understand what that obedience looks like through the regular reading and studying of His Word and consistent times in prayer. Life as a Christian is most definitely difficult, but it is not complicated. God has left us with His Word, outlining His clear desires for our life. He has revealed what type of speech ought to come out of our mouths and what type of speech ought never to leave our lips. May we all speak words that resemble costly apples today, regardless of what the day has held.
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” - Proverbs 25:11