“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:10
Spiritual disciplines are actions that help us produce a specific character or pattern of behavior. The term itself sounds awful because we naturally think negatively of anything that involves discipline. While spiritual disciplines may not necessarily be the most fun things, they cultivate in us the pattern of a disciple and bring us closer in relationship with the God we love.
In this continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns his focus to a few spiritual disciplines as well as to how disciples are to handle their money, possessions, and needs.
In , Jesus said that we are to shine the light of Christ for the world to see. It would seem strange for him to then talk about three things we should keep secret: giving, praying, and fasting. The primary difference is that some good deeds show the love of Christ and bring glory to God while other righteous acts, such as giving, prayer, and fasting, are meant to be a practice of worship between the individual and God.
In , Jesus talks about giving to the needy. Giving to the needy is an essential part of the church’s mission and is an expectation of every follower of Christ. Notice that Jesus does not say “If you give to the needy…” – instead he says, “When you give to the needy…” Giving to the needy is to be done in secrecy. Jesus emphasizes the level of secrecy to be taken by saying that not even a person’s left hand should know what the right hand is contributing (). Such humble actions are rewarded by the Father.
In this portion of his message, along with his teaching on prayer and fasting, Jesus instructs the disciples to not do what the hypocrites do. Hypocrites are people who do or act a certain way in one setting, but do or act in a different way in another setting. Jesus tells his disciples that these hypocrites have “received their reward in full.” The boastful giving, praying, and fasting that the hypocrites practice results in the only reward they will receive – the praise of man. Followers of Christ, on the other hand, are to do these practices in secret and will be rewarded by God.
Jesus again disapproves of how some people pray to God (). In , Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying at the temple. The Pharisee’s prayer is improper and boastful. He boasts about his fasting and giving and thanks God that he is not like the tax collector or other unrighteous men. The tax collector, on the other hand, prayed to God to be merciful on him because of his sinfulness. He was not boasting about his accomplishments, but fell at the feet of God to declare his unworthiness and desire for mercy. Jesus says that the tax collector went home justified instead of the Pharisee.
In , Jesus instructs that we should not heap up empty phrases in our prayers. I am sure we have all been to church when someone proudly stands at the pulpit, uses about 20 theological terms we are unfamiliar with, and quotes a few King James passages for extra measure. Public prayer is probably the time we are most vulnerable to babble or use empty phrases. It is crucial that we understand that our prayer is not for the benefit of the men and women listening to us pray, but to praise and petition God and give him glory in our prayer. Jesus gives us a model prayer to use in . The structure of this “prayer template” is interesting. The first half () is directed to God and praising who he is. This portion acknowledges his holiness, expresses the desire for his kingdom to be established on the earth, and seeks obedience to his holy will. The second half () is prayer concerning ourselves. It asks God for sustenance, forgiveness, and guidance. This modeled prayer shows us how to simply pray to God to praise him and request the things we need for the day.
Jesus’ final correction for these spiritual practices deals with the topic of fasting (). Fasting does not necessarily have to be giving up food or a certain meal. There are fasts from media, hobbies, and habits. Fasting is a way to replace one thing in our life with time devoted to prayer to God. Jesus warns about letting our fasting become boastful. Jesus says that when we fast (he is talking primarily about fasting from food), we should not boast about it and our appearance should be maintained during the fast. Essentially, it should not be outwardly apparent that we are fasting from something. The reason we must maintain this is because God desires for our fasting to be done in secret and in humility.
In each of these spiritual practices, Jesus says that what is done in secret will be rewarded. These rewards can be seen both presently and in the future. Presently, we have the benefit of close communion with God when we give, pray, and fast. The benefit is that we worship God with all we can and give glory to him. In the future, these practices will be rewarded by the Father in the kingdom to come. There are eternal rewards stored up for us in the kingdom which God bestows upon the faithful.
Jesus switches from talking about spiritual disciplines to the provision of God. Jesus first teaches about money and possessions. The Bible does not explicitly condemn wealth, but Jesus is talking about something different here: stewardship. Stewardship is living responsibly with the things that God has entrusted to us. That includes wealthy, possessions, time, talents, gifts, and relationships. What Jesus is saying in is that we should not store up or wastefully use what God has given us. Instead, we should invest what we have in heavenly things – the mission of God – for him to use for his purposes.
In , Jesus says that the eye is the lamp of the body. This passage comes right in the middle of his teaching on money and possessions. What Christ is talking about here is covetousness. Coveting is wanting something you do not have. When we covet with our eyes, it affects our whole life and can cause great damage to us. Christ warns us not to covet so that we do not sin in other ways because of our coveting.
Jesus’ final teaching on money and possessions is a warning against letting money become an idol (). This is a major problem for our society today. There seems to be very little that money cannot buy – in many cases, this is unfortunate (i.e., integrity, honesty, morality, etc.). Money itself is not evil, but when it takes the place of God and trusting in God for his provision, then money can become an enslaving master. We must be diligent to never let our money and possessions take the place of the God who provides.
One of the most difficult commands Jesus can give us is to not worry (). I remember hearing a story about a lady who worried all the time, but when she had nothing to worry about, she would worry why there was nothing to worry about! Jesus takes our worrying to the extreme – he tells us that we do not need to even worry about life essentials such as food, drink, or clothes! Instead, he tells us that he cares for all of creation. He cares for the birds and the lilies – why would he not take care of us? God will provide all that we need – it may not be all that we want, but it will be all that we need to be sustained. In , he even tells us that worrying is not good for us. God knows what we need and our worrying will do nothing to extend our life. We can trust that the all-sufficient Savior has us in his hands.
When we place our trust in Christ, he takes care of all our physical and material needs. As disciples, we do not need to be over-occupied with money, possessions, or even basic necessities. While we do need to take care of ourselves and be good stewards of what God gives us, we can trust that he will provide all that we need. We are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” ().