Even the most spiritual of people can fall into mask-wearing mode. It is worn in public and private prayer when we speak to God in correct terminology imagining that we can fool Him.
It is in place when, struggling to praise, the heart harbours hurt and anger, even against God, for what is considered to be unanswered prayer or a raw deal.
An open face before the Lord requires that I speak to Him as I genuinely am, not as I think He thinks I should be.
David spoke of ‘pouring out the heart’ to God’.5 There is no eloquence in the universe that can coin a vocabulary to adequately mask from God even the weakest whisper of a wounded spirit. Why bother trying? Nothing can hide from the laser gaze of a loving God – He who ‘penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; and judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’6
No one is immune to the potential for mask wearing. Twentieth century Pentecostals and Charismatics may not have the liturgy and ceremony of the historic churches but any form of worship, historic or contemporary, has the potential of being hidden behind.
When the form becomes a façade the service, clouding reality, becomes little more than a smokescreen. Worship may be expressed, but it is not in spirit and truth.
Even religious observance can become a front.
Tithing and faithful church attendance can never be a substitute for a real encounter with God. Few were more astute in this respect than the Pharisees but of them Jesus said, ‘You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’7
Isaiah spoke strongly against those who fasted regularly and adhered to the smallest letter of the Law but in whose lives harboured a clear lack of love, justice and mercy. Such people find their parallel today in those who feel the need to major on the most minor of points and who will argue, at the expense of fellowship and relationship, on secondary and peripheral things. All too often trivial matters are used to mask hidden agendas.
A minister friend of mine has a plaque on the wall of the office in which his various church committees meet, which asks the question, ‘Will it increase the kingdom?’ If it doesn’t they refuse to allow the issue to further cloud their consideration or sap their energy.
Then there is the mask of commitment – the vow too easily or unthinkingly made.
It must have been quite some meeting that Ananias and his wife Sapphira attended. The apostles had been laying out the challenge that it was wrong that those who had been made ‘one parent families’ because of imprisonment, persecution or bereavement should be suffering financially while others in the church were much more materially secure. They were calling for something more than a charitable poor box or a social security system - only radical commitment to one another would suffice. Having all things in common seemed the only practical solution.
If everyone in your row in a Convention or Celebration meeting has gone out to the front, it can take more courage to stay where you are then to join them. When everyone around you is promising houses, land and other possessions vow-making can become almost contagious.
Ananias and his wife nudged one another into conformity and added theirs to the volley of hands that were shooting up all over the church. It was when they got home at night that their minds began to do a slow motion replay of the previous few hours. ‘Did we really say that? …. We did.
The plan they concocted was simple enough. It was decided that the ‘For Sale’ notice would go up on their property - though only to camouflage their real intentions. When the land was sold they would simply withhold a percentage. Luke records the consequences. They both suffered heart attacks within three hours of each other.
Early Church discipline could be bad for your health!
Why the Judgement? Was it because they did not give everything? Not at all! At the moment they withheld the true price and paid the penalty, they had given far more than most people donate in a single act of giving.
The problem was not that they had not given everything but that they had promised everything and had given less. As Peter was to put it, ‘You have not lied to men but to God.’8 Whether our promise is made through private prayer or public pronouncement, if we are to be truly open with God, the advice of Bunyan would not go amiss, ‘When you pray, let thy heart be without words rather than thy words be without heart.’
Taken from the book "Open Heart, Open Hands" - available on Kindle