September 1: General Principles on Private Disciplines

Read Matthew 6:1-18

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

If you just read from Matthew 6, that sentence should sound familiar to you.  Yes, it was found in the passage…not once, nor twice, but three times.  The first time (v. 4) it was stated with reference to giving (vv. 2-4).  The second reference (v. 6) was in the context of prayer (vv. 5-15).  And, the final use of that sentence (v. 18) was a reflection on fasting.

Each one of those disciplines (giving, praying, and fasting) is deserving of its individual attention, but, today, let’s make some general observations about the practice of these disciplines.

  1. The proper practice of spiritual disciplines results in blessing. In each instance, there is the promise of “reward.”  What does that reward look like?  Of course, it has many different possible complexions.  It may be a future reward given at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  Perhaps it will be a direct response experienced in this life in the form of answered prayer, increased resources, or growing understanding of God, His will, or His ways.  We experience blessing as a result of participating in these disciplines
  2. Many spiritual disciplines were designed to be private in nature. Jesus is here warning repeatedly against fasting, praying, and giving in order to attract the attention or approval of other men and women.  Instead, these private disciplines were designed as a special, intimate expression between an individual and their Father in heaven.  As important as that is, it can also be overstated.  There is room for corporate calls to prayer, fasting, and giving.  We find examples of these in both Old and New Testaments.  But even then, the practice of these disciplines is not a form of competition or showmanship.
  3. Here is one final caution that we must heed. We must guard ourselves lest the practice of these disciplines become for us a mindless habit or a means of grace.  If we are not careful, we could, for example, verbalize routine words in “prayer” while our thoughts are actually on something else.  Equally dangerous, we could approach any of these disciplines as if it, in itself, is what grants us acceptance with God.  Friends, it is only by grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8, 9).

These cautions merit your notice as you give practice private spiritual disciplines!