War Room (which I have not yet seen) is pretty popular right now. Aside from bringing in serious money and contending for the top spot in mainstream movie theaters, it is also continuously on my facebook stream, quite often tethered with something like “OMG! LOVE that movie!” or “Been in my war room all night!”
I will eventually see the movie with my spouse and, like so many, will probably cry and, like so many, will surely be inspired and, like so few, may even go so far as to create an actual war room because, as a Christian, I believe we are called to pray.
But other than that brief confession, you probably won’t hear about it again, at least I hope not. Primarily because coupled with all this inspirational facebook chatter is Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6, smack in the middle of Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew (the “Sermon on the Mount”), which have been pestering me for awhile now:
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven…
2 “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. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
5 “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. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
I am no biblical scholar, but it seems that littered throughout the first 2/3 of chapter 6 is this idea of “a reward” for your faithfulness to God’s commands and whether or not you will receive said rewards from God is based on your doing said Christian Commands like giving, praying and fasting (I imagine the model extends further but contextually we are only shown these) in secrecy. That is, the idea seems to be you get rewarded one way or another – either by attention from men or by [unspecified] by God, but the only way to get the “unspecific God reward” is by not drawing attention to the fact that you did it. This is made explicit during fasting:
16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they [j]neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who seeswhat is done in secret will reward you.
From what I can tell, the key difference is solely whether you have done these in secret or drawn attention to yourself. Jesus models this often. Of course, he drew quite a bit of attention to himself, too, but c’mon, he is, after all as we believe, God so whattya gonna do?!
Either way, given the reward from men is immediately felt, that is, it has tangible space we can feel on our patted backs when our facebook friends like our comments, it logically follows that God’s reward would be felt there, too. But here’s the thing – I don’t think it is or, at least, we cannot conclude that from this particular text. All we know is there is ‘some reward’ God will give us, but when and where and what…who knows.
I would, however, contend that if there was a clue to where this reward, this treasure, might be, I think the section immediately following fasting gives us the best clue:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
God’s reward for us is in heaven. Rubies? Gold? Who cares. It’s not something I get to enjoy now, it’s something I’ll find out about later, but you know what I do get to enjoy right now? Jesus. God. The text seems to say we get something for our obedience here, but let’s also not overlook that time spent in prayer is also time spent with someone who loves you and someone you love.
Is that not reward enough?