Jesus’ Way calls us to a life of secret spirituality. This humble discipline takes shallow glory away from us in the short-term to create a spiritual power-force of Love in the world that God Himself will glorify.
Secret spirituality is what we like to call a particular triad of Jesus’ teachings from Matthew 6 about charity, prayer, and fasting.
“Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, NLT)
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues [churches] where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:5-8, NLT)
“When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NLT)
These three teachings about charity, prayer, and fasting are all connected by one simple principle: if you do these things in front of others, then the only reward you will receive is their shallow admiration; but if you do these things secretly, then God Himself will reward you.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a reward from God is way better than being admired by other people! Still, there is that desire in me–as in all of us–to let everyone know that I am a nice person who gives to the poor, that I am a spiritual person who prays and fasts. That desire is very powerful, and while it can motivate people to do good, it’s apparently not the kind of motivation that what God wants us to have.
Jesus seems to be saying here that it is better to do the right thing not because other people will see us and think well of us. We should do the right thing simply for the sake that it is right, and trust that God will see our good deeds and reward us. (I’m also thinking of a cross-reference to the Golden Rule!)
Jesus asks us to let go of this temptation to only look spiritual, to merely seem pious. He wants us to forsake this image of being godly people because what we do when no one is looking is what really counts in God’s eyes!
This takes us to a whole new level of spirituality that goes beyond outward appearances. And that requires a lot of humility! Let’s pray together (in our private places of prayer!) that we can grow to this point in our spiritual practice where a reward from God (and not the shallow admiration of others!) is all we need to keep us inspired about such important disciplines as charity, prayer, and fasting.