In Matthew 6:1-21, Jesus teaches about three foundational spiritual disciplines, which he refers to as acts of piety--giving, prayer and fasting. His teaching on each is minimal, focusing on how not to do them (for public appearance and praise and a short-lived reward). Instead, we are to practice them in secret where only God sees and knows and gives a lasting reward. His instruction begins with a warning: Beware! Because Jesus assumes his followers practice all three, I’ve chosen to spend a day on each one.
Prepare to Listen. Be still and silent then pray: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 6:1-4
1‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus begins his teaching about spiritual practices with alms giving, meaning charitable giving to the poor and needy. The opening warning about motive (not to be seen) is necessary since many of us would like people to know about our giving. We may not walk down the street flashing our checks or bank notes, or drawing attention to ourselves with noisy trumpets. Today we’re more discrete—names and the amount given published on plaques or in mail or a public oral announcement. Jesus warns against this kind of publicity, urging us instead to give in secret. He says, ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.’ Obviously, this isn’t meant to be taken literally! Of course, you will know what you give and so will others (such as the church treasurer). The issue of secrecy has to do with our motivation for giving. Why do we give? Is it for the immediate reward of impressing others or is it for God and God alone and thus we don't care if no human knows? Jesus’ only reason for demanding secret giving, that is, with the God-alone-motivation is simply this: ‘and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ Therefore, beware how you give.
Alms giving, that is giving to the poor and needy is a discipline Jesus expects of us. Ask God for guidance about how much and to whom you can give during Lent and for grace to give with the right motivation and thus 'in secret.'
Respond to Jesus
Lord Jesus so many people in the world need help. I can only give to a very few, a drop in the ocean. May my giving make a difference to someone today for your glory. Amen.
Go live obediently in the world that desperately needs our charitable giving.
Prepare to Listen. Be still and silent then pray: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. (Psalm 51:1)
Prayerfully Read Joel 2:12-17.
12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain-offering and a drink-offering for the Lord, your God? 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?”’
In the Old Testament, the word heart (used twice in this passage) essentially means mind and will and thus our whole being. The rhetorical question in v14 isn’t casting doubt on God’s willingness to forgive, but rather emphasizing God’s sovereignty and freedom.
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
Even now repent (meaning change your mind and actions) and return. Not tomorrow or next week when you feel like it, but even now regardless of what you think or feel or where you are. While the repentance Joel called for was for the entire nation, it can only happen if we begin with ourselves. The trouble is we too often think it’s our unsaved neighbors who should repent; or those who take a different political stance to us. Those are the ones who need to return to the Lord and change, and I fool myself into believing I’m okay. It’s tempting to condemn those over there and ignore the problem over here. Joel’s message isn’t for the other person out there. It’s for each one of us, regardless what church or political party or social groups we belong to. It’s not the other who must repent and return even now. I/you must change my/your mind, make about-face decisions and walk in the way of Jesus.
We can do it, even now, even today because, as Joel reminds us from the experience of Moses (see Exodus 34:6), the Lord, your God, “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” We repent and return, not to avoid punishment, but to bathe in the grace, mercy and steadfast love of our God.
Even now repent and return, a whole-hearted act to God who loves and is love. What changes do you believe God is calling you to make even now?
Respond to Jesus
Gracious and merciful Lord, I want to live in your grace, mercy and steadfast love today so that those I meet may know you as a God of grace who willingly forgives and receives us, regardless of who we are or what we have and haven’t done. Amen.
Go live obediently, displaying Christ’s grace of forgiveness in the world.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day journey practicing intentional denial of self as we wait to once again rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and live into the hope we have in our own resurrection. Ash Wednesday is on February 25. Devotions will appear each day, except Saturday, from then until Easter Sunday on April 12. Contact me if you have questions or suggestions.
The devotions will be based on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the 40 days of Lent and Easter. The readings help us gain a deeper understanding into the mystery of Jesus' life and death so that our lives are narrated and shaped by his Story rather than the story of culture. Read with me, listening to Jesus to be transformed, bit by bit into Jesus' likeness.
Because I believe that Scripture is food for our soul (our entire being) I seek to read it and encourage others to read it in ways that nourish and transform our beings. I invite you to read the Bible with me during Lent and into Easter. I am a Bible teacher, spiritual companion and retreat director. I know the Bile and how to read it for spiritual formation.