For as long as I can remember, I’ve been watching my daughter on a stage. From ballet recitals to theater camp, the stage has been part of her life. And she loves it. For my daughter, it’s a place where she invests her heart and where she finds great joy.

In our lives, we occupy several places where we invest our hearts and find joy. We can view these “stages” as concentric circles that radiate from the small, secret stage to the larger, more public stage.

The smallest, most secret stage is our relationship with the God of the Bible. This stage describes our time spent with God in prayer and in His Word. Next, there are stages that are small and semi-private. One might be the stage of self where we tend to our physical, mental, and emotional life. Family is another semi-private, albeit important, stage where we engage our spouse so that our marriage endures and we invest in our children so that they might know and follow Jesus with their lives. A wider stage where we invest our hearts and find joy is community. Here we have relationships with friends, neighbors, and people in our local church. We are known and experienced by others. Then, there are the more public stages like vocation and opportunity. Whether that is the vocation of homemaker or brain surgeon or pastor, each of us has a public calling where we invest our hearts and find joy. Opportunity is the outer rim of the available stages for us. It’s the stage of hope and vision where we dream about what’s possible, the stage where things tend to look green, lush, and brimming with opportunity and potential. The seemingly unlimited promise of this largest, most public stage can be dangerously alluring.

Now, there’s nothing morally wrong with any of these stages when they are rightly submitted to God. We were created for each of them. We were made to be in the relationships of family and community. We were made not only to steward ourselves but also to steward some part of creation. Our vocation is the means by which we steward that part of creation God has entrusted to us. We have been made to dream for the glory of God, reflecting Adam and Eve’s mission to fill the whole earth and subdue it. We are to do all of this while enjoying the presence and promises of God.

However, if we are self-aware, we realize that there are some potentially destructive realities at play as we engage each of these stages.

There is a magnetic draw pulling us away from the smaller, secret stage toward the larger, public stages. Some of this is good and God glorifying. We were made for the mission of God in the world expressed through our vocation. We should have a vision and dreams about what God might do in and through our lives, and there is beauty in our draw to ministry and opportunity.

However, some of that magnetism is rooted in our sin. We seek larger, more public vocations and opportunities because they offer more applause and praise. Sometimes we seek these stages to hide from the smaller ones, such as a man who avoids his family to bury himself in work because he doesn’t want to deal with the realities of his home life.

There is both fruitfulness and sinful desire in our engagement on the larger, public stage of vocation and opportunity. Some desires are driven by God-glorifying desire. Other passions are propelled by a vain attempt to soothe our souls with what will ultimately leave us unsatisfied. Therefore, if we are to navigate these various stages in the midst of our fruitfulness and sinfulness, we will need something weighty to draw us in and keep us aligned.

In Matthew 6:5–6, Jesus promises something weighty; He shows us what awaits us on the smaller, secret stage. Jesus presupposes that His followers will be engaging with Him in the smallest stage. He says, “When you pray,” rather than, “If you pray.” He also assumes that this will be a private or secret stage. We are to go into our room to be with our Father. Finally, Jesus promises not only the presence and ear of our heavenly Father but reward from Him as well.

Jesus teaches us that there is a gloriously weighty presence and promise of the Father that we can access only in the smallest, secret place. Unless we have this glorious gravitational pull toward the smaller, secret place, our hearts will run amok in the larger, public stages of vocation and opportunity.

The drums and trumpets resound in our hearts and the magnetic pull of the larger, public stage draws us away from the glory of God in the smaller, secret stage.

Francis Schaeffer in No Little People, No Little Place writes:

Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give, for we must stay in step with God to have the power of the Holy Spirit. If by taking a bigger place our quietness with God is lost, then to that extent our fellowship with Him is broken and we are living in the flesh, and the final result will not be as great, no matter how important the larger place may look in the eyes of other men or in our own eyes.

Schaeffer reminds us that if our hearts are not rooted in the glory of the smaller, secret stage where we enjoy the presence and promise of our Father, we will not have what we seek or that for which our hearts were made. It is in this place, where we meet one on one with our Father, that we get a taste of lasting, eternal joy. If we don’t find it there, we will not find it on the larger, public stage, no matter the size of that stage. Further, we won’t be effective for eternity in the larger, public stage if our hearts are not invested in the smaller, secret stage.

Schaeffer again writes:

We see this happen over and over again, and perhaps it has happened at some time to us: someone whom God has been using marvelously in a certain place takes it upon himself to move into a larger place and loses his quietness with God. Ten years later he may have a huge organization, but the power has gone, and he is no longer a real part of the battle in his generation.

Is that not a staggering thought? That we could be apparently effective in the larger, public stages (“have a huge organization”), but not effective for eternity.

He continues,

The final result of not being quiet before God is that less will be done, not more—no matter how much Christendom may be beating its drums or playing its trumpets for a particular activity.

Even so, the drums and trumpets resound in our hearts and the magnetic pull of the larger, public stage draws us away from the glory of God in the smaller, secret stage.

Because of this, we don’t spend time in prayer in the smaller, secret stage seeking God’s face. We don’t take care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. We sacrifice our spouse and children for “vocation and opportunity.” We grow disengaged with friends and relationships; all is sacrificed for the passing promises of the larger, public stages.

There is a better way.

In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we could be brought to God. Jesus died so that we could have access to the smaller, secret stage where we experience the presence and the promise of the Father. He rose so that our hearts might enjoy the glory of God that keeps us rightly submitted to Him in the smaller, secret stage so that we can engage rightly in the larger, public stage. He suffered so that our hearts might gain the glory we crave and the grace that we need.

So, let’s be blood-bought people who prefer the smallest, secret place with our Father while we engage in the larger, public stage of vocation and opportunity. Let’s be people who both rejoice and relish what Jesus’ death secured for us so that as He sends us out in the larger, public place, we can go with hearts that are happily quiet in His presence, trusting His provision, and filled with satisfaction in His glory.

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