by Rev. Jacob Sahms
Read Matthew 6:1-6.
One night in Bible study, we were reflecting on our desire as individuals and as a church to improve our community. We talked about the way that we wanted to do more than we had done the year before, and how last year, we had added a Christmas gift ministry for children in our community to our growing list of active projects. But not everything that we had experienced had provided us with satisfaction.
One woman shared a story about how she had encouraged her children to buy gifts for other children in need, and to leave them in the collection box for a drive a local bookstore was running. She shopped their regularly, and was angry to return in January to find that the toys she and her children had wrapped were still there. After announcing that she wouldn’t give to that charity again, she admitted that she was struggling with a sense of cynicism toward giving away when even those organizations didn’t follow through.
The Message puts Matthew 6:2-4 like this: “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
If I’m going to be fair, I think more and more people are recognizing a need to give generously, and that they do it without worrying about whether they get credit. They’ve mastered the part about not calling attention to themselves. But we still want to feel good about it—there’s still a sense that it’s so we’ll feel better about our lives, maybe even less guilty for what we have when others lack. We might not get praised but we want that self-satisfaction: finding your gifts in the box after Christmas doesn’t give you that (nor should it!)
But Jesus encourages us to love others behind the scenes like God. And while God is generous and giving and compassionate, God is so much more than that. If I’m going to give like God then I need to learn to recognize that abandoned collection boxes will still, somehow and someday, serve a good purpose. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t need to know. To take it a step further, I need to do good, as Mike Slaughter says, even after it stops feeling good.
The story of the undelivered collection box isn’t over. It still has a purpose like God’s purposes for us. Not for praise or satisfaction or for human recognition, but for the glorious realization that when we are full-heartedly, unabashedly involved in the kingdom of God, we have pleased the audience of One.