In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us disciplines that will actually position us to encounter Him. The disciplines spoken of in Matthew 6 are giving, praying and fasting, and as stated before, doing them in secret is the key. These three disciplines are presented by Jesus as being normal Christianity. He did not say not “If you give..” neither did He command it then, He said “When you… give… pray… fast” (Matthew 6). He did not present them as something we had to do, but as something we would do, and He directed us on how we should express those disciplines so that they are most appealing to the Father. These can be done for our own conscience sake, out of our desire for others to see, or out of our Love for God and desire to draw near to Him. If the motivation behind these disciplines is not coming out of a place of Love for God primarily and Love for others, they are empty.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven… do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
There are actual rewards to giving, praying and fasting. The reward is the knowledge of Christ. It is revelation of Jesus and Christ-likeness. We encounter God through giving and come to know Jesus’ faithfulness. The sacrifice in giving, when done before the Father, is multiplied and the reward we gain is greater then the loss. We can only give what we have been given, we must acknowledge that it wasn’t ours to begin with, now it is so that we can lay it down at His feet. And we’ll find that the Lord will still meet our own needs even with the loss. Because we acknowledge that it wasn’t ours to begin with, we realize it wasn’t never meant to be used for our own gain. We can use what we’ve been given by God to partner with Him, or to build our own kingdom.
If we give out of our own abundance, all we can give is what man has to offer. By this I don’t mean so much the amount that we can give or do give, but more the attitude of our heart in giving. If in pride we give believing the gift we have provided out of our own resource will accomplish something great, we have limited that gift to man’s ability as opposed to God’s ability. What God has to offer is so much better than what man has to offer. The rich give out of their own resource. The poor in spirit, the ones who recognize that apart from Christ they have nothing of value to offer, out of the storehouses of heaven give what they could not afford. In simpler terms, a gift given in Love and Humility, both greatly impacts the human heart and supplies the practical need of an individual. We are called to give what God has to offer. Jesus gave from the resources of heaven and He fed thousands in various occasions with just one individual’s lunch, and they still had food left over after all had eaten and were satisfied!
God is not interested in what we can give Him. He deserves more than what we can give to Him. So He gives us from His supply, that we may give back to Him.
“When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
The next discipline that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6 was prayer. He tells His disciples what not to do, in whose ways not to walk in, and then He proceeds to tell them what to do. The Pharisees walked in the ways of man, and therefore sought to please or impress men. Jesus walked in the ways of God and He sought to please the Father. He invited His disciples to do the same. He invited us into conversation with the Father. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13).
It is hard to speak to someone who is either not listening, or not responding. God didn’t ask us simply to talk to Him, but also to listen to Him. He is listening, and He will respond. If we speak to God without any expectation that He will respond, prayer can be a boring thing. Without that expectation, most times prayer will be dry. It was never meant to be a monologue, or a journal entry. God wants to speak. He wants to interact with us. Hebrews 11:6 says “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God (he who prays) must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” He who comes to God must believe that He will respond and will therefore diligently seek Him. When prayer becomes an experience then it will be enjoyable. As Mel Tari wrote in his book “Like a Mighty Rushing Wind” “In science we must experience believe, but in the Kingdom we must first believe to experience” (Paraphrase).
How can we be like someone we don’t know? And how can we know someone we do not converse with? Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). It is through conversation that we get to know Him and by following Him that we get to know His ways. When we believe God, we experience Him. When we experience we get to know Him. He wants us to experience.
“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Fasting is commonly used by many, to be seen by peers as spiritual. Though this is a big temptation, it is not the purpose of fasting and it actually hinders the benefits and rewards that are promised with fasting. Seeing and understanding that temptation in His days, Jesus taught His disciples to look for the Father’s approval and not men’s.
Fasting is a major tool for sensitizing our spirits to the Father’s will, to hear His voice with greater clarity. With all the clatter and all the distractions in this generation, turning off many of those things that call for our attention allows us to quite down and receive from the Lord. As we detain from momentary pleasures, even legitimate things such as food, we make room for that which is eternal. We don’t fast to earn something, Jesus already paid the price, but we fast to position our hearts to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say. There is spiritual gain that is experienced through fasting, and it comes as the Holy Spirit reveals the things that have been freely given to us (1 Corinthians 2:12).
God has great plans for our lives. He wants to empower us and use us for His Glory and here is the Way; Intimacy. That is what we were really made for. Doing the works, and seeing God move in our lives, is meant to be a continuation of that intimacy. It is to flow out off intimacy and into intimacy. The works are supposed to proceed from us being near to God, and are to be an expression that we do together with Him. We can walk in power and do great things without knowing Him, but then we will be missing the very purpose of our existence. God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden and His desire to continue to do so with humanity has not changed. He has a Way, and has consecrated it for us (Hebrews 10:19) in order that we will actually walk with Him in it. Let’s walk with Jesus, let’s follow Him.