Today’s reading: Matthew 6
At first blush, Matthew 6 sounds like guidance on how to (or how not to) properly carry out different spiritual activities.
- …so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:4).
- But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).
- …that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:18).
Jesus’ instruction is clear. These spiritual disciplines are to be performed in private. The last two sections of the chapter, Lay Up Treasures in Heaven and Do Not be Anxious, help us understand this chapter is not really about how these disciplines are to be performed, rather it is about our motives and the condition of our hearts. Is our focus on earthly things or spiritual things? Is it on the temporal or eternal? Is our focus on ourselves or on the Kingdom of God?
Merriam-Webster defines discipline as training that corrects molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. Giving, praying and fasting are often referred to as spiritual disciplines because they help to shape the condition of our hearts. Remember, God is perfect and complete in every way. He doesn’t need our money and he doesn’t need us to talk to him in order to accomplish his purpose. Instead, giving, praying and fasting, among other spiritual disciplines, help mold our thoughts and behavior from focusing on ourselves to focusing on the Kingdom of God.
Our family spent last week in Haiti partnering with the Welcome Home Haiti organization to build a house. The family of five for whom we built had been living in an unfinished concrete structure. Only one room in their home was under roof, the bedroom where all five of them slept on the floor. To say they were in need, is an understatement.
If you aren’t familiar with this organization, Welcome Home Haiti helps match teams from the U.S. with Haitian families in need of a home. With funding from the U.S. team, Welcome Home Haiti employs Haitian workers to begin construction. When the U.S. team arrives, the Haitian crew, together with the U.S. team, complete construction and present the finished home to the Haitian family for which it was built.
Not only is Welcome Home Haiti helping provide improved living conditions for hundreds of Haitians, they are also providing jobs. These folks are learning marketable skills, they are earning wages to provide for their families, and they are being spiritually guided and mentored by Welcome Home Haiti leaders. It is a truly amazing organization.
While U.S. teams are key to funding the project, after being there a day or so, it became abundantly clear that Welcome Home Haiti doesn’t really need unskilled U.S. teams (like me) to come help finish construction. They have trained capable Haitian workers. However, our participation still served a vital purpose. It improved the condition of our hearts. Living in Haiti for a week, spending time with the family for which we were building and working alongside the Haitian construction crew required us to take our focus off of ourselves.
Much like performing the spiritual disciplines outlined in Matthew 6, our week in Haiti helped mold our character and guide our hearts to focus on others, to focus on building the Kingdom of God.
Change my heart O God, make it ever true. Change my heart O God, may I be like you (Mercy / Vineyard Publishing, 1982).