Monday, May 20, 2013


Pictogramm silence
Have you ever known someone who was addicted to approval?  I don't mean a person who desired the honest praise of those who should give it, wives who long to be beautiful in their husbands' eyes or sons who want to hear their dad cheer for them from the sidelines.  I mean the grasping, mewling desire for everyone around you to think you are wonderful.  The desire to hide the bad and display the good taken to its most obnoxious extreme.   I am talking about butt-kissers, people-pleasers; I am talking about myself and probably you too.

Jon Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted says that the cure for this "disease" is the spiritual discipline of secrecy.  If you are scratching your head and thinking that you've never heard a sermon on secrecy, you're not alone.  But I bet you do remember a lesson or two on not doing good to be seen by men, right?  Secrecy as a discipline simply means doing our good to be seen by God alone.

Everybody loves secrecy when it means hiding shame.  We'd love to pretend that our sin is invisible especially to God.  Jesus disabuses us of the notion: "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light." (Mark 14:22).  This kind of secrecy is what Ortberg calls, "impression management."  We try to manipulate other people's view of us.  Like the Pharisee who prayed, telling God all the bad things he didn't do, we even try to shape God's view of us.  With our silence we hide our sin and then drop our good deeds into conversations as casually as possible.  

"I hope you'll pray for Sally.  She is just devastated by this miscarriage.  I was over there for a while on Thursday, you know, with a casserole and just to talk."
"We're going to need Sunday School teachers next quarter.  The Johnson's are leaving.  Mrs. Johnson has taken the third graders on Wednesday nights for the last 6 months.  I teach them on Sunday."

We can't resist adding that last little bit. We have to, because deep inside it seems a good deed isn't worth doing if somebody doesn't pat us on the back!  Jesus insisted that good done for human approval is not rewarded by God.  In Matthew 6 he says, 

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 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.

Jesus never indulged himself in "impression management," and he had plenty of opportunity (and a better excuse than most of us).  If people needed healed, it didn't matter that it was Saturday and he'd get the evil eye from the Pharisees, he healed them.  At the absolute height of his popularity, he taught one of his most controversial sermons and in the process drove masses of people away (John 6). (For a fuller treatment of this topic see

So how can we practice secrecy? The first and simplest way is through silence.  Choose a period of time and a method and decide not to say anything that would build yourself up during that time. Commit to posting no Facebook statuses this week that mention something good you did.  Just today resist the urge to point out to your boss and co-workers how hard you work. 

The second way to practice secrecy is to begin some good work, for example to memorize a verse, give 5 dollars to every homeless person you meet for a week, or pray incessantly in intercession for a friend and mention it to no one.  Not this week, not ever.

In our culture of re-tweeting, Instagram, Facebook likes and blogging "stats," being an approval addict is easier than ever.  We can track approval by the number. If you've read many blogs you'll know that lots of them suffer from fairytale syndrome (an exaggerated and obnoxious kind of impression management).  In their world, the kids are always cute, the husbands are always kind, the chickens are always laying and the kitchen's always clean.  Preachers, elders, deacons, and Sunday school teachers run the same risk.  By their very desire to set a good example, they may give in to the temptation to display their strengths and hide their weaknesses. In a blog about faith, the danger is doubled. So I'll tell you the truth: half the lies I have told in my life were an attempt to adjust other people's view of me. 

Take a page out of Jesus's book and make a plan.  This week stop trying to manage your image.  Don't tell everyone the good you did.  Do something good and keep it a secret-just between you and your Father.  He who sees in secret will reward openly. 
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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