Maybe it’s because I majored in history in college. Maybe it’s because I’m an explorer at heart (not always a good thing). Maybe it’s because I’m a typical man who hates to ask for directions, or maybe it’s because I often wind up in places I didn’t intend to go. But regardless of the reason, one of the most common questions I ask myself is, “How’d I wind up here?
That’s a pretty handy thing if you want to stay out of the bad neighborhoods, the dead ends, or the “I told you so’s” in the future.
But wouldn’t it be more helpful to have a bit of a roadmap ahead of time? Maybe to get some directions that apply to whatever path I or you think we’re on?
In the previous post, I mentioned a simple question – a diagnostic tool that helps to evaluate the path we’re on in any given moment. But Jesus gives us a clearer, more detailed map in the Sermon on the Mount. He talks about the difference between choices that serve us and choices we end up serving. His diagnostic question is, “Where do you want your reward?”
Jesus contrasts two kinds of people – those who serve to be seen, and those who give themselves to a future (eternal) return. So what does it take to produce a future reward – one that serves us? Three things:
- Doing the right thing,
- With the right attitude,
- For the right reason.
Action: Doing the Right Thing
Let me tell you how you wound up where you are today. It’s because of the actions you took to get there, wherever “there” is. If that sounds like I’ve assumed the role of Captain Obvious, take a closer look.
Jesus spoke of three types of action that produce a future return. They aren’t all-inclusive, of course. But they do represent three arenas of action. Everything you do in the context of godliness will fall into one of these three categories of performance: (1) Meeting the needs of others (giving), (2) Developing intimacy with God (praying), and (3) Self-discipline (fasting).
LifeVestors act generously. They give. When? When somebody has a need. They don’t judge, whine, preach, manipulate, or wait ‘til the cameras are rolling. They find a need and serve it. If they don’t have the resources themselves, they’ll help you find them, if they can. They don’t do it to be noticed. They aren’t martyrs about it, either. They’re painfully aware that they can’t meet every need, but they gladly serve the needs they can.
LifeVestors pursue intimacy, especially with God. They recognize that prayer isn’t often urgent, but it’s always important. And LifeVestors pursue the important. Quietly, intently, honestly, consistently, they pursue the heart of their Heavenly Father. Out of this pursuit, intimacy with other people flourishes as they learn to forgive and be forgiven.
LifeVestors discipline themselves. Like in the practice of fasting, they recognize the value of doing without today in order to harness greater power tomorrow. Yes, they do it with food. They also do it with time, energy, entertainment, and money. Paul understood that when he encouraged Timothy to “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
Attitude: The Checkup from the Neck-up
Here’s a new word for you – religisery (n.) – The outward display of supreme unhappiness because of a very religious life.
How you do things is as important sometimes as what you do. You can do everything right on the outside, but ruin its effect with a sour or selfish attitude. Specifically, Jesus warned against three self-serving attitudes that characterized the religious leaders of his day:
- pride – doing what you do to be noticed and praised.
- pretense – trying to create an impression about yourself that isn’t true.
- false misery – trying to arouse sympathy from others because of the huge sacrifices you have made.
The common thread in all of these is that a life-consumer invests in impression management. That’s like taking your entire life’s earnings and buying the biggest fireworks display of all time. People may be thoroughly impressed – today. Tomorrow they’ll just look for someone who can top what you did. And they will find it. Meanwhile, you’ve pulled your trigger. You have your reward.
LifeVestors display different attitudes. They love people unselfishly, but don’t live to please them. They’re humble enough to recognize that tomorrow they may be the one with the need for help. They live and relate to others with simplicity, recognizing the value of simple answers and straight talk. They are filled with praise and wonder, and stay submitted to and dependent on God. They value unity and togetherness, quick to forgive and seek forgiveness. And through it all, they maintain a steadfast, almost stubborn spirit of joy. In the end, these attitudes are returned to them – often when they need it most.
Motives: Doing it For the Right Reason
Motives are the invisible movers of the heart – known only to God, in spite of what you believe about yours or what you presume about others.
(SOAPBOX ALERT) – Nobody (not even you) has the capacity to determine why somebody does what he does. And you’re a fool to try. The minute you assume to know somebody else’s motives, you’re about to arrogantly assume the position of the Judge of the Universe. And that job has already been filled and is jealously guarded. (Alert cancelled. Resume your normal activities)
Motives can also be difficult to discern in our own hearts as well. That’s why God says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
God tests not just what you did, but why. Your intentions and goals matter. That’s why it’s critical to pray, like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, the next time you asked “How’d I get here?” it was because of choices that had served you rather than enslaved you? Or destinations that produced ongoing reward rather than fleeting moments that just left you wishing for more?
Do the right thing. For the right reason. With the right attitude. I can’t think of a more powerful shortcut to the life you’ve always wanted.