The poster announced the speakers at the University Christian Union, and the name of one of my friends was on it. I was shocked by the intensity of my reaction – which was largely envy. How come he was invited to speak, and I wasn’t? My reaction was irrational (he was known, I wasn’t; he was a graduate of that university, I wasn’t; he was etc. etc.) but it was also sinful, and spiritually deadly.
It was many years ago, and he and I are still good friends I’m pleased to say. But that sinful and spontaneous reaction has stayed in my mind, because it highlights one of the hidden and dangerous traps for a Christian minister.
You see, I have now spoken at that CU – several times. My name has been on that poster and term-card.
Is that it? Have I got what I wanted? Was that the prize?
The danger I identified then, and have to keep identifying for myself, is that of working for the wrong prize. There is a right prize of course: Paul says, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). That requires a consistent, lifelong effort, with a focus on heaven.
But there are wrong prizes too: the ones the hypocrites worked for in Matthew 6, remember?
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…(v4)
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… (v5)
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (v16)
It’s shocking to consider that when I accept invitations to speak, preach or write, I am doing so for nothing more trivial than a desire to be seen. The attentive audience, the conversations over coffee, the stroked ego (‘It’s a pleasure to have such a gifted speaker here today…’), are all rewards, and if I am not careful, they become the reward I work for. In its entirety.
Have I already received my reward?
So, let’s consider our hearts. Someone once said to me that he thought that church leaders were divided into two groups: those get invited to speak, and those who do the inviting. I have therefore experienced many of the related sins: envy, man-pleasing, pride, and self-righteousness. Have you? Which is the strongest at the moment?
Let’s keep our eyes on the right prize.
And, yes, I do realise the irony of writing this on a blog.