When I was a kid I used to pull this trick on my mom, though I wouldn't be surprised if she knew I was doing it. She would send me in for a nap and I would go in and lay down. I didn't want to take a nap and I didn't really want to lay down for very long. So I would lay in bed for about half an hour, maybe read a book when no one was walking past the bedroom door or do something else to keep me occupied (and awake). When I felt enough time had passed, I would force myself to yawn several times so my eyes would get watery, and then I would rub one side of my face really hard so that it was all red and looked like I had been laying on it. Then I would get out of bed and go into the living room. Without saying a word about having gone to sleep or taking a nap, I would walk in really slowly like I was still waking up and then sit down on the couch and yawn really big. If my mom ever caught on she never said anything about it. I thought I was being really clever at the time and even then I enjoyed acting. You see, at that age, I wasn't really all that concerned about taking a nap like I was supposed to. I was only concerned with looking like I had taken a nap and with getting credit for it.
Fortunately, I grew out of that phase and I now understand that doing or not doing something is more important than the mere appearance of doing something (politicians could learn a thing or two there!). But every now and then I still catch myself more concerned with looking like I'm doing something than I am concerned with really doing it. We've all been there. To avoid having to talk with someone we pretend that we're busy and hope they leave us alone or we do just enough on a project so that it looks like we're making progress while we're really wasting time on other things. Or, we make a big show of struggling with our wallet or purse so people see us putting our tithe in the offering plate. In all of those instances, we're not really concerned about doing something, we concerned about getting credit for it.
In Matthew 6, Jesus discussed that phenomenon when it comes to our spiritual life. He warned his listeners about being more concerned with credit for doing a thing than with the thing itself. In 6:1, Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (NIV). He then went on to give examples of people who give to the needy or pray, all the while drawing attention to themselves so that they look good. In each of the examples Jesus gave, the people in question actually did the good deeds but only so they would get credit from people for doing them. These people gave to the needy but had no more concern for the needy than a carpenter for a nail; both the nail and the needy were simply tools to be used for other purposes. The person praying wasn't actually concerned with talking to God, only with other people thinking that he was talking to God. In each case, Jesus warned that the rewards for those good deeds had already been received in full.
How did Jesus suggest we remedy being more concerned about the appearance than with the good deed? Do the thing in secret. After all, if no one every knows that you are doing good, it's hard to be tempted to do it for the sake of appearances. But, notice, Jesus did not say to stop doing good deeds or to stop praying. Never do that! But make sure it happens when no one can see but God. Credit is not a bad thing and it is a good feeling to get patted on the back from time to time. But credit, when it comes, should only be a perk that comes with getting caught doing the right thing. Credit should never be the point of doing the right thing.
Are you concerned you aren't getting all the credit you deserve? Have you been tempted to improve your image by being seen doing some good things? If you do things for credit, credit is all you will ever get. But if you do things secretly, for the sake of doing the right thing, for the sake of pleasing your Father in heaven, credit will be the least of your rewards.