Read Matthew 6:1-18
There is faithfully following God and there is putting on a performance. At the end of a performance you get applause if you put on a good show. You might even get a paycheck if you are on Broadway.
If you are really good, you might just get a little fame.
It can be a really good high, at least for a while.
Jesus tells us that if we do the things of God so that we can gratify ourselves, then we had better be happy with whatever applause we get because there is no reward stored up for us in heaven.
When we give to the needy, it is nobody’s business but God’s. We must never make a show of our giving. You might need to get a receipt for you taxes, but your neighbors don’t need to have a clue what you are doing.
Does this mean that we can’t come together to help people?
We are the body of Christ and we are called to work together; however, as we work together we don’t discuss how much we put in the offering plate or how many hours we put in or anything that would make our giving about us instead of about God and those of his children who need a little help.
This same sort of thinking applies to our prayers. In many congregations it would seem strange to think someone would make a show of praying, but some do.
Some like the sound of their own words more than they want to humble themselves before God and have a genuine conversation.
That does not mean that we don’t have people who lead prayer. Your pastors and elders and worship leaders expect that at some time they will be asked to pray.
Sometimes these people pray for us. Sometimes they lead us in prayer, but they must always remember, this prayer is not about bringing attention to me.
Prayer is not about fancy words or how long the prayer lasts. Prayer should be genuine.
Our best prayer time is when we are alone. We know where that place is. We visit it often. It is a place where we can both talk and listen.
When Jesus says go into your closet, he is telling us to go to that place where you can have an intimate conversation with your Father in heaven.
Then come words that remind us why fancy words and long winded prayers don’t make any sense. Your Father in heaven already knows what you need.
If you can’t come up with the right words, don’t worry. The Spirit will intervene and take hold of the conversation.
But Jesus did give us a model for prayer. We call it the Lord’s Prayer.
Of interest is that of all the things that Jesus told us to pray about, only forgiveness received a follow up commentary.
If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.
These are tough words and they come from the man through whom we receive forgiveness.
All that I can conclude is this. God is serious about this forgiveness business. How can we truly follow Jesus if we can’t live a life of forgiveness?
When in doubt, forgive.
But the people who wronged me don’t deserve it! Forgive.
Remember that we live as a forgiven people. In so doing we must also live as a forgiving people.
But I can’t bring myself to forgive him or her or them for what they did to me. The what they did is less important than the fact that it seems to be enough in a person’s mind that they make refusing to forgive greater than loving God.
For we forgive not so much because we fully comprehend the paradigm of forgiveness; we forgive because we are God’s children and that’s what Dad told us to do.
God loved us so much he forgave all of our sins. We want to love God back. We really do. We want to love him with our heart, mind, soul, spirit, and strength—and everything else that we can muster.
To truly love God we must forgive others, especially those who don’t deserve it. To withhold forgiveness from someone who has wronged us is to withhold love from God.
That dog don’t hunt.
Next we come to fasting. Fasting isn’t a big deal for most Christians today. Many still fast for special occasions, but the teaching here is about our attitude towards doing the things we say we do for God.
Let’s try some 21st Century examples.
Guess I’ve gotta go to church.
Great, it’s time for the offering. Are they trying to milk me dry?
Another song? Really who is listening to all this singing? I will add a couple Christian songs to my playlist on my phone if it will get me out of here sooner.
Almost time for the Lord’s Supper—better put my sad face on.
What? Someone is responding to the invitation. Maybe I can slip out the back. Can’t these people just stop in during the week? What is all the excitement about?
Again Jesus tells us if you want sympathy from those around you for doing the things God told you to do, then you have received your full reward in sympathy.
The real question is that if you are not joyful about doing the things that God requires, why are you doing them in the first place?
Is our obedience a reluctant obedience?
Is that really the obedience our God requires?
Do we want to please God or get sympathy from our friends?
And so we arrive at a single word—motive.
What is our motive or our motivation for doing the “religious” things that we do?
Do we do them to avoid penalty?
Do we do them to have some immediate gain?
Do we do them because we have to?
What is our motive for doing the things of God?
Hopefully, our motives are rooted in love for our Father. He loves us with an everlasting love and we are to love him back as much as we can.
What kind of love says, Gotta do this?
As we consider these few scriptures, let us also consider our motives. My prayer is that you find the things that you do in God’s service are done out of love for God.