Saturday, May 11, 2024

Piety Not Performance

I have been a worship leader for many years.  Music is one of those areas of the church where performance can start to out distance piety.

The reasons people join worship teams and perhaps go on to be a leader, or start out as one, are varied.  Some love to worship and being on a team means joining with other brothers and sisters and standing in the presence of God together.  Others want to learn to grow in their musicianship and playing with others is an excellent way to do that. Others want to expand their musical horizons by learning new songs and to be part of something creative and growing. 

But there is another side to this, and I have seen both.  Some people are frustrated musicians and want to be on stage (and admired) so they think a worship team is a substitute for that.  Others want to serve, but the need for validation takes over and they lose their love for worship. The focus shifts from God to themselves. Still others are intimidated because they keep comparing themselves to others.  They stop growing in their musical journey, because they think they will never be good enough. 

But God is in the business of helping us see our misguided priorities and is more than willing to help us realign them. 

God knows our hearts.  We can't see into the hearts of others, and some very pious people really are not.  There are others who struggle to do what God wants them to do, and feel they fail Him far too often.  

We assume that when people go up stage, their hearts are in the right place and they are sincere in what they are doing. That is a responsible assumption; otherwise, we may sit there, scornfully scanning other people, and trying to detect what they are really all about. 

Or we get so swept away in our admiration for them, we lose our objectivity.  We know they are pious (!) and if anyone asserts otherwise, we become defensive.  We think they are righteous people and everyone needs to agree with us.  

But admiration and fixation on another human being can become dangerous.  We look to them to model God for us; to be Jesus for us and to walk the walk for us.  We become (literally and figuratively) the audience and we lose motivation to be active in our faith.  

It's just easier to let the pastor open up the Word of God, and read it, so we don't have to.

It's just easier to let the worship leader and team sing and worship once a week, so we don't have to sing and praise God on our own.

It's just easier to let church be our walk, and we wait until next week for another chance to sing and learn.  

But Jesus is looking into acts of piety (giving to the needy and prayer) and now fasting, and He is not just concerned with the ones who are active in carrying on with those who watch. 

He says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt. 6:16-18)

OK.  First, let's listen in on the Guy Faking the Grade: 

Oh, woe is me.  I am soooo hungry.  But I must endure.  I must show others I am a good person, who obeys the Law and does all that is required of me.  But how will others know I am fasting?  I know!  I walk around downcast, depressed, even put a bit of ash under my eyes to look exhausted and wan.  People will see me coming and admire me for my piety.  I will be on stage, as it were, modelling how to be righteous, and those who look upon me will sigh and think, "Wow.  I wish I were as pious as that guy!  He is such a spiritual giant."  I am looking forward to being admired.  Sometimes I don't even know what God thinks of me.  I feel I let Him down all the time.  But if others think well of me, (even if I am faking it) what harm can it do?  I will inspire others!

OK, Let's listen in on the Guy Who Thinks He Ain't Making the Grade:

Oh, woe is me.  I am soooo not like that guy!  He's fasting, long and hard (just look at his appearance!) and he is modelling what I'd like to be, but will never make it: a righteous person.  I see guys like him, whose hearts are so pure and wonder, what is wrong with me?  I fast and it lasts only about an hour.  I then go find something to eat, and feel such shame.  I can't even last an hour.  But this guy!  It looks like he's been fasting for days!  Well, maybe one day, but still!  It's way better than I can do.  How does he do it? Why can't I be like him?

Now, let's go back to the mountainside and watch these two as they listen to Jesus.

OK.  First, let's listen in on the Guy Faking the Grade: 

Uh-oh.  This Rabbi Jesus is trying to steal my thunder.  He's calling me an actor--someone who is acting out a role, one that does not reflect the real person.  But the mask I wear is good for others.  It's shows them how to be pious, even if I, under the mask, am not. What?  No?  The Rabbi is now saying that the admiration of others is the only reward I'll get.  Well, that's good, but where's God in all of this?  The admiration of others is a funny thing, that's for sure. One day, you're the top of the pops and the next day, down with the dogs. Oh, wait a minute.  The Rabbi is now saying that we are to look no different on those days we fast--same bright face, same combed hair.  Oh, now He's mentioning God!  We are not to seek to gain the admiration of others, but to earnestly seek time with our Father, alone and in sincerity about what we are doing. Hmmm.  That is more freeing, I must admit. I guess God will accept me, if I am honest with Him and with others.  Even if I am not the most pious person around, I need to be real with others, and share my struggles.  I guess if you try to be up on a pedestal, then no one can join you.  It's lonely at the top.

OK.  Let's listen to Guy Who Thinks He Ain't Making the Grade:

Wow. Are you saying, Rabbi Jesus, that if I sit with our Father, one on one, He will reward me?  But I feel so worthless.  Well, I guess a lot of that comes from comparing myself to other people, especially those I admire.  I can't compare myself to anyone if I am seated in my closet and talking to God.  I guess I wear a mask, too.  It's the mask of someone who acts happy, but deep inside, I feel worthless.  Yet, if I enter that closet, you, Rabbi Jesus, promise me God will be there with me.  I guess He'd rather have an honest sinner than a fake saint. 

You got it, gentlemen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...