Nothing Is Private To God

Psalm 139.1

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

Stanley Hauerwas likes to opine on what the church would look like if, when we take tows of membership, we also shared our previous tax returns.

That he likes to raise this idea is a reflection on both his desire to get a rise out of people and his commitment to calling into question our fabricated distinction of the public-private divide.

For, if we were so bold as to share our tax returns, perhaps we would be a little more willing to share our resources with those in need a la the church in Acts 2. Or, maybe we would actually know more about the people in the pews with us (or watching online these days) than merely who they are rooting for the NFL playoffs. Or, perhaps we would take seriously Paul’s notion that we are one body with many members rather that a bunch of individual bodies who happen to attend the same church.

Thoughts on the private vs. the public have been a sore spot in the church since the Enlightenment such that, now, it’s not uncommon to hear some nonsense like, “I believe in God, but that’s just my personal opinion.”

Confessing the lordship of Christ is not a personal opinion, but rather it is a decisive political claim that will result in different thoughts, hopes, and behaviors for the individual and the community.

Whereas believing that belief is a personal matter allows people to go to church on Sunday and then live Monday through Friday as if what happened in church made no difference at all.

But for Christians, Christ is the difference that makes all the difference in the world. 

And yet, many of us cringe at the thought of revealing our finances to our church. But what about revealing who we voted for? Or, how about sharing our internet search histories? Are all of those off limits as well?

Admittedly, I don’t know how healthy it would be for churches to have access to every single bit of information about their respective congregants (the slippery slope toward works-righteousness is ever present), yet the covenant God has made with God’s church makes it bewilderingly difficult to keep anything private.

The psalmist declares, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” 

To God, nothing is private.

God knows our innermost thoughts and desires!

God knows our prejudices and our preconceived notions!

God knows our internet search histories!

God knows who we voted for!

Put simply, God knows us better than we know ourselves. 

And how does God respond with the total knowledge of God’s creation? Does God punish us for our ridiculous Facebook posts? Does God rain down destruction on those who silently judge others from afar? 

God responds by taking on flesh and dwelling among us, by taking on our very nature to save us from ourselves, by breaking forth from the grave so that we might no longer live under the reign of sin and death.

God responds to our shortcomings and sins before we even get a chance to come to grips with what our shortcomings and sins actually are! 

Grace precedes all things because God knows all things. 

But it is in the knowledge of grace, of knowing that God did and does for us what we couldn’t and won’t do for ourselves, that we begin to take steps toward a transfigured existence. When we see the lengths to which God was willing to go for us we can’t help ourselves from living in the light of his glory and grace. 

Devotional – Matthew 6.1

Devotional

Matthew 6.1

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Weekly Devotional Image

When I was in seminary we called the season of Lent, “The Spiritual Olympics.” For those of us enrolled in higher theological education, we loved competing with our peers regarding our public piety during a season of fasting. Whereas many Christians rightly use the season of Lent to return to God’s way by confronting their finitude, we used the season to show off how holy we thought we were.

It was not uncommon to hear subtle brags throughout the hallways of our esteemed institution: “This year I’m going to give up sweets…” “Sweets? That’s easy! I’m going to give up meat in order to honor the glory of God’s creation…” “Meat? Give me a real challenge! I’m giving up television so that my focus can remain of the Word of God…” And I was there in the thick of it, offering up my own sacrifices to demonstrate my piety for anyone with eyes to see, and ears to hear.

What made the Lenten season so ridiculous was the fact that everyone knew what everyone else was giving up because it became the forefront of our conversations. In those moments of “Spiritual Olympics” we wanted everyone to know how pious we thought we were, and we had lost contact with Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” It was frightening how easy it was for us to turn the gospel around to be more about our own selfishness than the good news of Jesus Christ.

Beware

Resisting temptation is a powerful practice during the season of Lent. When we take the time and energy away from bad habits and give that time back to God, it gives glory to the Lord. But if we take this season as an opportunity to flaunt our piety, it bears no fruit.

This Lent let us challenge ourselves to engage in acts of piety. Perhaps we know of something in our lives that we need to give up this season, a distraction away from recognizing God’s grace in our midst. Maybe we know of a practice that we need to add into our daily rhythms like prayer or bible study. But instead of sharing what we are giving up, or adding, with everyone around us, instead of making this vulnerable season in the life of the church into “Spiritual Olympics,” let us keep our piety to ourselves.

If we can keep our piety in check, which is to say if we can be pious for God’s sake and not our own, we will begin walking down the path that Jesus’ prepared for us.