“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them,” says Jesus in Matthew 6. “For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
When people do good deeds to get some reward, they often end up hating the deeds they do:
They’re no longer reading for fun; but studying for a test.
They’re no longer giving a gift to a lover; they’re paying taxes to a government.
They’re no longer dancing for joy; they’re exercising to lose weight.
Jesus mentions three cardinal disciplines of Jewish life: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
If I give alms to the poor to gain a reward, I end up using the poor to make myself rich, and secretly hating the poor.
If I use good deeds to gain something other than the Good, I crucify the Good… and that’s evil.
“When you give to the poor, don’t even let your right hand know what your left hand is doing,” says Jesus. —Now do it!
How could I move my right hand and left hand in perfect harmony without conscious effort? How could I lose myself and find myself perfectly coordinated?
Watching an old Steve Martin movie, titled “The Jerk,” it hit me—How about a dance?
In the movie, Navin couldn’t dance until he stopped trying to dance, and then he danced.
Music is extremely logical—more logic than the human mind can comprehend.
We can’t comprehend the logic, but the logic can comprehend us and cause us to dance.
We recognize the logic and beauty and think, “Dang! I love this funky music!”
A dance is incredible order and yet free.
Freedom is a lack of deliberation; it is instantaneous animation.
“As long as you notice and have to count the steps,” writes C. S. Lewis, “you’re not yet dancing, but only learning to dance.”
Dancing is fun; dancing is its own reward.
Children dance easily, for children lose themselves easily and so they find themselves dancing.
Proud people don’t dance well, or at least not easily.
“We played the flute and you would not dance,” said Jesus to the proud.
“You must become like children to enter.”
God is like a dance. God is three Persons, but none of them proud—each of them humbling the self, exalting the other, and dancing in the Light of that Love. God is Love.
What sort of beautiful deed is perfect order and yet unrestrained and free? How about a dance? And what sort of work is really rest? How about play?
As I shared last week, because I was a pastor, my children played “church”—songs, prayers, offering, sermons, and even liturgical dance. The whole thing was like a dance, and to me it was profoundly beautiful; it was good. And I’ve asked myself, “Why?”
They weren’t trying to be good; they were just expressing their goodness.
They weren’t trying to justify themselves; they were rejoicing in their justification.
They weren’t trying to make themselves in my image; they were delighting in the fact that they were my image.
They weren’t trying to earn my love; they were dancing in the light of my love.
Jesus said, “Don’t do these things to be seen by people, for then you have your reward.
Do these things to be seen by your Father. And your Father who sees in secret, He will reward you.”
What is that reward?
It is “to be seen.” Piety hides you from God, and righteousness is communion with God.
It is to be seen and to see yourself reflected in the eyes of your Father. They are a fire that burns away the false self and reveals the true self
It is to be seen by Love, made in the image of Love, and then to begin to Love—to join the dance—and the dance is its own reward.
My children’s play “church” was a taste of Eden, but they would soon leave Eden.
They would go to school, get a grade, and attempt to justify themselves.
We all leave Eden, but then return to Eden when we come to know that we have been justified.
Your righteousness doesn’t pay for the dance; righteousness IS the dance that has paid for you. Unconditional Love is the logic of the dance—the “logos” in Greek.
With his Logos, our Father speaks all things into existence, or perhaps he sings.
So, should we practice “the disciplines” of the Christian life?
Well, yes… but only while listening to the music of our Heavenly Father’s Love.
Otherwise, we’re not dancing; we’re just jerking ourselves around.
My son got a guitar for Christmas and couldn’t wait to play.
I showed him how to place his left hand and strum with his right.
He practiced and practiced, but the sound was “unrighteous.”
It’s very hard to consciously coordinate both hands at the same time.
But one night he discovered a secret; he said, “Dad, you sing, and I’ll play along.”
When I sang, his fingers just began to dance—left and right, at just the perfect time.
It was beautiful; it was good—all because he happily surrendered to the Word of his Father as I sang, “I’m just a hunk, a hunk of burning love.”
It was at that point that all his discipline turned into dance.
God your Father is singing. His Word is Jesus. He’d like you to play along.