Bible Verse: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-24

We want to be recognized. Though this desire may be self-centered and vain, it is also part of what it means to be a human being, made in the image of God. When Jesus says we are not to parade our good deeds or accomplishments before others, but rather to live before an audience of one (Matthew 6:1-4), he is not denying our natural desire to be noticed – he is simply redirecting it. Jesus teaches us to live for the applause of our Father in heaven.

Of course, living for the applause of our Father in heaven is no small victory, since our natural instinct is to desire the praise of people more than the praise of God (John 12:43). But, if we live for the approval of people, we will discover a gaping void in our hearts, because we can never get enough affirmation, and whatever human approval we do receive will leave us feeling emptier and emptier.

But if we live for the applause of our Father in heaven, who cherishes us, we will find that his affirmation nourishes us, fills us, and sustains us far longer than human acclaim. As we live for the approval of God alone, we become full and free.

Jesus not only redirects our natural desire to be noticed, but he also redefines true greatness. Jesus upends our assumptions about what is truly great. For in the kingdom of heaven obscurity and greatness are not opposites.

St. Dominic once said, “Death will kill a man, but the thought of death can save him or her.” When we come face to face with our own death, we realize that it doesn’t really matter if we went to a great school, are on a prestigious career track, have spectacular achievements, or have raised accomplished children. What matters is that we know that God loves us and cares about who we are becoming far more than what we do or don’t do.

When we identify our eulogy virtues – the things we would want people to say about us after we die – we can identify what we value most and the person we deeply long to become. Becoming the person we are called to be is the central drama of our lives, and yet our ongoing formation does not come as a result of our sweat and effort but as a gift of grace.

If you want to lead a life of true greatness, you can achieve that right now, where you are, without going anywhere, as you live out the days that have been given to you for the praise of God alone. As a redeemed Whole Adam living solely for the applause of God – through the grace of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit – you will be set free and filled with light, joy, and contentment as you bless those around you with the gift of yourself by becoming the beautiful, beloved person God created you to be.

— Ken Shigematsu in Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve. Copyright © 2018 by Ken Shigematsu

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