The Secret Reward


Part 2 in a Five-Part Lenten Series

Imagine the Academy Awards… in secret.

Someone from the Academy calls. “Congratulations,” the voice says, “you are the Best Actress.” That’s it. There is no gala, no red carpet, no envelope please, no Oscar statuette. No one ever finds out who wins. Only you.

Isn’t that the whole point of an award–that it’s public? How would you feel about getting an award in private?

In this series we are looking deep into that classic clip from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21), where Jesus warns us away from public shows of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. It must all be done, he insists, “in secret.” It’s a call to turn radically inward, a recognition that God–who “is in secret”–can be met only there.

It takes a lot of faith to forswear all those outward trappings and appearances, and yet the only “reward” we are promised is a secret one. “And your father who sees in secret will reward you.” The divine reward stands in marked contrast to the one the “hypocrites” get. After every depiction of some piety done in front of others Jesus adds, solemnly, “I tell you, they have received their reward.” Clearly, God’s reward is received away from the crowd, alone.

I had to smile at the asterisk in my Bible–right after that line, “and God who sees in secret will reward you.” The footnote reads, “Some manuscripts add ‘openly.’” Somebody had to add that word. Otherwise it doesn’t add up for us. If nobody sees us get the Almighty Nod of Approval, what good is it?

The secret reward brings us to a critical inner reckoning. It asks us to renounce our need to be seen, get credit, look good, be vindicated–to be OK with who we are in God’s sight. God knows how much time we waste trying to get somebody else to tell us we’re worthy, successful, attractive, important.

What Jesus wants for us is a life free from the craziness that comes from looking out there for affirmation and approval. He knows how beautifully freeing it is not to need anyone else to ratify your life. Jesus could live such a life of freedom, careless of what the “important” and “powerful” people thought, because he was so confident of his inner life with the Father, Abba.

It’s natural to want the public reward and often we are successful in getting it, but if we follow that path for long it always ends in unhappiness. The outer sources of affirmation dry up and there’s nothing left inside. You spend your whole life trying to get everyone to like you, and at the end you don’t even like yourself. Now is the time, Jesus says, to let all that go and claim the only reward that matters, now and for eternity. The secret one.

Next week: Worship in Secret


Part 1 The Big Secret

4 Responses to The Secret Reward
  1. Michael
    February 22, 2018 | 8:22 am

    David, another fine post.

    Loved the notion of the Academy Award delivered only in secret. It’s the call we all get, the call from the father saying, “You are my child. I love you.”

    And–I think this is what you’re saying–the fact that God gives the same award to everyone on earth actually increase its value.

    Because if I get it and you get it and she gets it and he gets it, it can’t possibly be for something we have accomplished, only for something we are.

  2. David Anderson
    February 22, 2018 | 8:26 am

    That’s a beautiful summation–it’s because of who we simply are.

  3. Matt
    February 22, 2018 | 11:39 am

    In the desert I learned the concept of “First Thought Wrong” which proved to be 100% accurate with me. My impulsive response is always wrong and at the age of 42 learned to count to 10 (or 10,000 depending on topic)to gain a little clarity. Jesus was a counterintuitive fella – and it appears being counterintuitive is often where the eternal rests.

  4. Cathy H.
    February 22, 2018 | 1:59 pm

    It seems like rewards (recognition, validation) are desired in varying degrees depending on the individual (in the spotlight vs no spotlight). No matter if we’re extroverts or introverts, we all want to feel what we do and are is making some kind of difference, and we tend to look “out there” to measure it. So it looks like we need to change how we measure our worth because the true reward comes from Jesus “in here”- (if this isn’t the season to remember our worth to Jesus, I don’t know when it is. Why do we have such short memories?)

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