Saturday, January 28, 2012

#4 Matthew 6:5-6 "Shhhhh! It's a Secret!"

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

There are two very personal reasons why I hate the word "hypocrite."

One reason is because I am an actor. Yes, I like to get on stage and perform a role in a play. But, the church has had a long and mostly unfriendly relationship with theatre, for multiple reasons I will not get into.

And the only time I really hear about theatre and actors is when the pastor is preaching about hypocrisy. You see, the word "hypocrite" comes from the Greek word hypokrisis, which means "play-acting." In ancient Greek theatre, actors on stage often wore masks to portray the characters in the story. Hypocrites are those who pretend, or put on a mask, as one type of person, but in reality, are really another type of person altogether.

I know some in the church have viewed my theatrical endeavors with mild suspicion. Arts and the Christian life seem to be limited to worship music, in some peoples' eyes. I know not everyone will be a theatre fan. It just hurts that the only mention of theatre in church is when they equate us to hypocrites.

The second reason I hate this word is because I am a Christian. "Hypocrite" is a word-bomb that gets thrown at us believers by those outside the church. It is the common insult (and excuse) used to justify why some non-believers refuse to go to church or why they dismiss the church and its members.

I once heard a pastor tell me that when he invites people to church, they often say, "I don't want to go to church. The church is full of hypocrites." Then he'd say, "Well,'ll fit right in!"

Okay...I'll be the first to say that, yes, there ARE hypocrites in the church. I have also met many hypocrites outside the church. We Christians have no monopoly on hypocrisy.

But that doesn't excuse any of us, believer and non-believer alike, from walking our walk and talking our talk. Hypocrisy is something we all need to get over.

Matthew 6 tells us that God, too, disapproves of hypocrisy. Play-acting the life of a holy and righteous person who has a dirty, secret life within is exactly why our critics are calling us to the carpet. Our secret life within (as Matthew says, behind closed doors) is what God calls genuine. When the secret life is pleasing to God, this is what He rewards. Our secret life is what is in our hearts, in our deepest thoughts and desires.

God knows what's in a person's heart, even though the rest of the world may not. As this verse shows, not everything in our hearts is portrayed by our actions. Just last evening, I had the opportunity to watch a play. The play was a "comedy" based on the question, what would happen if several deities from various religions got together and planned the apocalypse?

I heard the words, some bordering on blasphemous, being delivered by the actors (yes! the hypocrites!!). A couple of the actors I knew personally. One was a believer, the other was not.

I doubt that either actor personally believed what their characters were saying. But when the Christian actor had to deliver offensive dialogue, I prayed silently. But God assured me, "It's only a role on stage....Don't worry, I know what is in his heart."

And that's what God looks at, the heart. Yes, our actions should flow out of what is in our hearts. But this is where it begins. That way, there will be no disconnect between our hearts and our actions. When people meet us, they'll get the genuine deal.

Am I giving God my genuine self? He is the maker and healer of my imperfect and wounded heart. I have to begin there. When God gets the real me, then He can work on that hard heart of mine. And the whole world doesn't need to see that heart work. Matthew reminds us that it is done in secret.

I pray that when His work continues in me, my actions will naturally follow suit. Oh but wait, that heart work is secret. I wasn't supposed to tell you about that.....

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