My husband & I like to see movies. There’s one film that is on our list to see, whether it be in the theater or afterwards: The Greatest Showman. From the movie trailers that I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, this musical portrays how P.T. Barnum rose from obscurity to create a worldwide phenomenon known as The Greatest Show on Earth. If you’ve ever attended one of those traveling circuses you were treated to quite the spectacle indeed: high wire acts, animal acts, the antics of clowns, and some real oddities.
It’s in our human nature to self-promote, to make a spectacle of ourselves. Society rewards and encourages that kind of behavior. After all, if you are not drawing attention to yourself, you’ll be left in the shadows. Self-help books abound (with the authors making big profits) advising us on just how we should dress ourselves and make ourselves visible so that we can be rewarded with that raise or promotion. Which then leads us hunger for more attention, and to boast and self-promote more.
It’s not only in the secular world that these things happen. We Christians also see this in our faith. I once attended a church in which on the outside it appeared as if the lead Pastor and spouse were truly great Christians. However as time went on, it became clear that the motivation that they had in their ministry was to build a grand church and live a lavish life all provided for them from their congregation. I won’t go into great detail, but every few weeks they were pitching a new way for the people in the congregation to spend their money for the benefit of the church coffers – and not for the benefit of God’s glory or helping others. They may have started out with sincere wishes on reaching the lost for Christ, and extending God’s love to others, but somewhere along the way their priorities switched away from God and onto themselves.
It’s with the kind of flair and spectacle from P.T. Barnum that I picture when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:
(Jesus says) 1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-6, ESV)
It’s easy to lose our way, or our focus, even when we ourselves do God’s work. Over time if we don’t watch and examine our hearts and actions, we can easily pollute the message, our witness, and make everything about ourselves and what a wonderful Christian we are. We may spend a lot of time talking about just what we do in God’s name, we boast about all of these things to whomever will listen to us. It’s then all about the show. And when we behave in such a manner, Jesus said we’ve earned our reward by the attention we receive through boasting. And, going along hand and hand with “Our Own Personal Greatest Show on Earth” is this, at very the same time we are discrediting ourselves. People are not easily fooled, they know that although we may be furthering God’s work, we’re really just trying to draw attention to ourselves.
Once again society has it wrong. It’s not all about the spectacle and garnering attention like a giant production of the Greatest Show on Earth. Denise Hughes said: “Lavish sacrifices and impressive projects won’t move the heart of God. Doing great things for God is only great when it’s done with a heart of obedience.” Her wise words echo those in Matthew 6. I for one wish to be obedient to God and practice my righteousness in private, and not boast to others about what I do for God.
I think that we would all do well to remember that it’s not all about us, it’s all about Him.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, ESV)
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14, ESV)