We are in the 3rd week of the series called Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith. Today we’re talking about the word discipline, which is not always our favorite word. Truthfully, it’s the thing that we all love to avoid. My personal definition of discipline is “the things you’re supposed to do that you don’t want to do.” Things like eating healthier, exercising more, saving more money, getting the job done, and getting your schoolwork done. The list goes on and on when it comes to discipline. I could preach a whole series just on these specific things. In fact, no matter how disciplined you are, I could just keep pushing the envelope further and further to where all of us would finally go, “I’m so horrible at this and such a slacker”.
Then you meet people who are more disciplined than you, and on one hand, you’re inspired, but on the other hand, you’re annoyed by them. You know the ones I’m talking about. They show up everywhere. They move in next door. They work in your office. They jog by your house every day. They’re all peppy first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, you’re out there trying to just wake up and you’re thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”
I don’t know all of your discipline weaknesses, but all of us have those moments in our lives. If I ever hit your weakness in a message, you may think, “Ouch, she’s stepping on my toes, but at the same time, I know I need it.”
Disciplines Often Become Pleasant Habits
The interesting thing about discipline which most of us have lived long enough to realize is that often the things that start as disciplines end up becoming very pleasant habits. Sometimes they become hobbies. Other times they become almost addictions or obsessions.
Like exercise for instance. When you exercise, your body releases hormones that actually make you feel better. Your muscles get moving and loosen up and once you get past the first two weeks, it becomes this addictive habit. You want more of that feeling you get after you work out.
That’s true of many disciplines. Things that start off as sheer discipline often become an obsession.
Some of you are very cautious about what you eat. It started off as a discipline – watching what you put into your body. Then it moved to an obsession. Now it’s a lifestyle.
Think about musical instruments. Some of you learned to play an instrument as a child. Your parents told you that you have to practice. You’ve got to practice your piano. You’ve got to practice your guitar. They made you practice, which felt like an eternity when you had to do it. You probably didn’t want to do it most days but because of that discipline, you got over the hump and now it’s something that you actually enjoy.
Things that begin as disciplines can become pastimes and hobbies that we enjoy for many years to come.
Discipline Leads to Progress
The other interesting thing about discipline is that discipline almost always results in progress. Even if you have a bad attitude and you do something out of sheer discipline – something you don’t want to do – there is still progress.
In many areas, discipline results in freedom – especially if you’re disciplined with your finances. It results in freedom later on. In fact, discipline is basically doing what you don’t want to do now, so that you can do what you want to do later. Which means discipline is all about delayed gratification.
Instead of satisfying myself or my desire now, I’m going to have something to show for it later. That’s what discipline is. That’s how many of us got through school; that’s how you’re going to get through school if you’re not through school just yet. It’s a matter of delayed gratification. It’s doing what you don’t want to do now, so you can do what you want to do later.
Now, the reason we’re talking about discipline is because we are in the middle of this series, Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith. These five things are not a list that you do. (Today kind of is, but the list in itself is not.) This is not a list you find in the Bible anywhere. These are five things that we find in people who have grown in their faith. As they talk about their faith journey and the things that have really blown up their faith, the stories always revolve around these five things.
This is when we are in an environment where we open God’s Word in a very practical kind of way for the very first time.
These are things we do in private to grow our faith.
This is where we feel like God brought someone into our lives at just the right time to grow our faith.
These are the moments when you are moved into service to serve other people in Jesus’ name.
These are things that we have absolutely no control over, that God uses to get our attention and to build our faith.
So today, let’s get into Private Disciplines.
Private Disciplines: Prayer and Giving
We’re going to focus on two of them: Prayer and Giving. I know you’re probably thinking, “Oh here she goes about to step on my toes”. These disciplines are never fun to talk about.
Here’s the reason we’re talking about them…they are part of every faith journey.
Whenever you hear people talk about their faith journey, there is always a moment when they have learned how to pray. I’m not talking about the “prayers on the run” – the ones you do as you go about your day. I’m talking about when people learn to be still and have quiet time with God or learn to develop their personal devotional time. It’s a discipline. It’s a decision to carve out time in the day for God.
And the other thing you’ll hear in faith journeys is when people have learned over time how to financially give. Giving, for almost every person I’ve ever met who is a Christian, began as an uneasy, gut-wrenching, sheer discipline. It used to be you just gave because you were supposed to give. The pastor said Jesus died for our sins, so here I’ll give a dollar. But when you talk to people about their faith journey, part of the story is when they began to see how faith intersects with our finances. (Now, this isn’t a giving sermon. We’re not going to have a special offering or launch a capital campaign, so you can just relax.)
Here’s what I want you to specifically listen for today. The interesting thing Jesus says about these two private disciplines is that they have more to do in the context of YOUR faith growing than they do with benefiting anyone else.
Prayer and Giving through the lens of what it does for YOUR faith.
When we think about our prayer life, we’re often thinking about God answering our prayers for other people, to heal her, to bless him. That’s part of faith and certainly part of prayer…
That’s not what this is about today.
When it comes to giving, if you’re like the average person, giving is basically a trigger response when you see a need. I see a need; I’m going to give…
This message isn’t about that either.
Today’s message isn’t about helping anybody else.
We’re looking at these very specific disciplines (Prayer and Giving) through the lens of what it does IN YOU, FOR YOU, and FOR YOUR FAITH. Now obviously it’s bigger than that, but there is a faith-building element when it comes to devotional life and giving that is oftentimes overlooked.
And yet, as Jesus talks about these things and as you listen to other people’s stories, private disciplines are a huge part of building faith. I guarantee you, that there are many Christians who would say these two things on their faith journey began as a discipline, but now is a lifestyle. I can’t imagine starting my day without it. I can’t imagine viewing and handling my finances any other way. It is pure joy, but it all begins with a discipline, a decision to put one foot in front of the other.
Now as you listen today, the other thing I would like for you to be aware of in your heart, because I know some of you may find you’re not doing these disciplines or that your struggling with them, is if you find yourself resisting, I want you to pay attention to that. Recognizing in our hearts what we are resisting is important.
It’s like a muscle. The more you exercise a muscle, basically what you are doing is trying to wear it out. And once you wear out a muscle and you let it rest, it grows. That’s how you develop muscle. And the same is true of faith. There is a sense in which God will bring you to places where He will almost exhaust your faith, because after exhausting it or stretching it, it grows. And these private, personal, spiritual disciplines are a part of that. But unlike some of the other things we’re going to talk about in this series, this is an arena where you can make a decision to be involved at whatever level you choose to be involved.
So let’s look at these closer. The passage today is in Matthew 6:1-6. Here Jesus is teaching, and again, there are a couple of words in here that may really bother you. However, if Jesus said it, that means we need to hear it, right? I mean, if someone dies on a cross for you, don’t they at least deserve to be heard? So even though some of these words are a little disturbing, and you may think they don’t really fit in your view or experience of God, that’s okay. Just relax and let God speak to you. Let the Holy Spirit do His thing in your heart.
Matthew 6:1 (NIV) Jesus sets up the discussion.
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’… Acts of righteousness are His way of saying private disciplines. That will become clear in a moment.
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.
Why? Because these are private disciplines and…
1 If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Now, He sets up this whole discussion by saying, I’m going to talk to you about some specific things, things you do not do in public. Now, you may have do some of these things in public, but there’s got to be a private element to them. And if you do these privately and if you do these consistently, your Heavenly Father is going to see this and He is going to reward you.
Now the next verse is His first illustration of an act of righteousness that you’re supposed to do privately.
2 “So when you give to the needy,
He is talking about money here, and specifically, He is talking about what was called alms giving. You may have seen pictures of this, where just outside the temple or the synagogue, poor and lame people lined up and begged for money as people went in. So people would bring extra money, and just out of the mercy and tenderness of their hearts would give money to these people. It wasn’t a real systematic kind of thing. This was just basically, I see a need and feel sorry for you so here’s some money.
This was not was not the tithe though. This was not the money that devout Jewish people automatically gave to the temple to support the temple and the priest. This was above and beyond that. The devout Jews in the first century were already giving anywhere from 10 to 20% of their money to God by giving directly to the temple. And basically, to first century Jews that part felt a little bit like a tax. I mean you didn’t have to do it, it wasn’t legal, but it was God’s law. So they were already giving a big chunk to keep the temple thing going. This giving was in addition to that. Jesus says, Now, as you’re going to the temple and you see these people with all these needs and you decide to give to them, when you give…And then he tells us specifically what to do.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
If you look closely, the reward that they have received in full is that men have honored them. He says the people in a very ceremonial kind of way walk down through the beggars and give out alms, and they do it with lots of fanfare. Look at me! See what I’m doing! See how generous I am. Jesus says look, when you give in that way, you’ve already got your reward because you will be honored by men and men only.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
You’ve probably heard this phrase before in the business context – the left-hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. Well, now you know where it comes from…the Bible. Jesus said it.
4 so that… And here comes the result, a really important part here.
3-4 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Not men. These other folks are being recognized by everybody on the street, but when your Heavenly Father sees or recognizes what is done in secret, He will reward you.
Now, Jesus doesn’t tell us exactly what the reward is, but in this particular context, we would guess that part of the reward is honor. That just like those men were honored by other men because people saw what they gave, Jesus says in the same way, When your Heavenly Father sees you give, He’s going to honor you. There is going to be a reward as you privately give and as you privately fund the things that are close to the heart of God.
Now let me ask you a question. Remember, this is all about faith. This isn’t about just meeting the needs of the poor. There are other passages that focus on that. This is about something different. What if you really believed those words of Jesus? What if you really believed that your Heavenly Father saw your private financial generosity and decided to honor and reward you because of it? Now, if you’re thinking, Are you saying we are supposed to give to be rewarded? I didn’t bring that up. Jesus did.
But my questions is, what if you really believed that? What if you really believed that Jesus saw how much, and how you gave, how it impacted your whole financial world, and was honored by that and said, I’m going to reward her. I’m going to reward him. You see, I would argue that one of the reasons people are not more generous is because they do not believe that. And the issue is not money; the issue is your confidence and your faith in God.
Money is almost always a faith, believe-in-God issue, because God doesn’t need your money. But what if you really believed that when you took your hard-earned money and you funded what God was doing all over the world through the church, through missions, through feeding the poor, etc., He is going to reward you as you privately, behind the scenes give? If everyone would really believe that, there would be no sense of, Oh, write the check. Here comes the offering plate. I hope she doesn’t talk about money today. All they ever want is money. All that angst that you feel about money, there would be none of that if we all really believed that God sees it and rewards it. Instead, it would be like, Oh, here comes another opportunity.
Jesus taught more about money than he did about Heaven and Hell combined. And here is why the private discipline of giving is such a faith thing. What we are trusting most is our ability to control our environment and our circumstances through our wealth, or the pursuit of wealth. That’s why Jesus teaches so much on this subject. So what that means is this: if the God who controls your eternity that you can’t do anything about is a personal God, which we believe He is, and if He has invited us to call Him Father, which Jesus references right in these verses, and He wants to teach you to trust Him now, then wouldn’t it make sense that He would mess with the thing you trust most right now in order to get you to trust Him more now? That’s why you can’t serve God and money— because our wealth and our money or our pursuit of money or our worrying about money or our anxiety about money, does more to compete with our devotion to God than anything else. We live as if money is life, as if money is air.
It’s like the foundation of what our confidence is in. And you know what? That’s not a good or bad thing; that’s just a human reality. So Jesus comes along and says this, I want to teach you to trust me in this life. I know you’re trusting God for the life to come, but I want to teach you to trust me now. So, here’s what we’ll do. I want you to give me some of that. And I’m not talking about meeting the needs of the church or anyone else. I’m talking about your heart alone. Do you trust me? If what you trust in most is your wealth, and I want your trust, then the only way to get in the driver’s seat of what you’re most confident in, is to exchange some things.
That’s why money is a faith thing. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian; it’s going to happen eventually. Eventually, God is going to come calling for your checkbook. And it’s not because He needs it. It’s not even because He wants it. It’s because He wants to teach you to trust in Him, not in your checkbook. And this is one of those five things where you have a choice in the matter.
I understand this is emotional. Money is emotional, which is so strange. Why should we be emotional about pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents? But you know why money is emotional? You know why it’s the number one thing couples fight about? Because you trust in it. Money represents your security. And Jesus knows that.
And here’s why I want you to pay attention. Because the tension you feel around money is an issue of faith. It’s not just greed. It’s not just, well I wasn’t raised with much. Jesus knows all of that. Your real concern is – can God, will God take care of you if you put Him first in the area of your finances. That’s the issue. It is a faith issue, and even when you uncheerfully give, you begin to transfer your trust from your wealth to your Heavenly Father. And Jesus says, Your Heavenly Father sees that and He’s going to reward you.
Then He moves on, and aren’t you glad about that? Verse 5: second illustration.
5 “And when you pray… Now He’s going to talk about time because who’s got time to give away, right? I mean come on, I’ve got things to do. But Jesus said, Let’s just talk about that a little bit.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
So now Jesus connects praying with rewards from your Heavenly Father; not just giving, prayer too.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Again, Jesus is not talking about the “on the go” prayers. He’s talking about taking a piece of your time, which is also a valuable asset. He’s talking about devoting a piece of our time to Him. Listen again,
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Think about this. When you go into your room and pray—Jesus says your Heavenly Father, using the most intimate term—your Heavenly Father sees you pray. But doesn’t He see me pray when I am running down the highway? He does. But what Jesus is saying is that when you devote a chunk of time to God, He sees what is done in secret, and then your Father will reward you. You say, Well, I’m not doing it for a reward. Good. It doesn’t matter. He is just going to reward you anyway. I’m not in the business of bartering with God either.
But there is something honoring to God when you take a slot out of your busy day and give it to Him. See, busy is all about you, your family, your money. So when you take that time out with God, you’re actually telling Him, I realize how dependent I am on you, God. I’m so dependent on you I can’t imagine starting my day any other way than with a few minutes carved out for you.
Now, if you were to ask me what the reward of spending time alone with God behind closed doors is? I can tell you the reward isn’t that God says yes to all my prayers. The reward is not that I get all my prayers answered. The reward is that I leave that time alone with my Heavenly Father with this wonderful assurance that He is with me. I leave the room with this assurance that as I face the uncertainty of the day, God is with me. I don’t know if that’s the reward Jesus is talking about, but that is a reward of spending time alone with your Heavenly Father in prayer.
I want to close today with this. With most of the other subjects of the Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith, there’s not much you can do. Sure, you can put yourself in a place to hear practical teaching, you can be open to providential relationships, but you can’t make one of those happen. However, Private Disciplines are the arena where you can proactively engage with your Heavenly Father in an activity. It’s a discipline that will build your faith. Which means, if you decide to do this and get out of bed fifteen minutes earlier in the morning, you may not pop out all peppy and singing Joy, Joy, Joy. You may have a really bad attitude, but you know what? Disciplines are beneficial even if you have a bad attitude.
If you will give God a slice of your time and if you will give God a percentage of your money, you know what you’re saying? It is an expression of, I trust you, I trust you with all my time, I trust you with my wealth. And here’s what happens. God uses that. I guarantee you, God uses that to build and grow your faith. Now, Jesus goes on in Matthew 6 and talks about fasting, but I decided I wouldn’t even do that to you. But there’s a third one that Jesus says we get rewarded for. I encourage you to read all about fasting on your own. And just like the first two, I believe God rewards with honor and with a sense of His presence when we fast.
So here’s my challenge for you. I dare you, for thirty days or for two weeks or for ten days – you pick the time slot – I challenge you, if you don’t already do this, to give God your first few minutes and your first few dollars.
First few minutes may be Monday through Friday. If you want to take the weekends off that’s fine, but get up a little bit earlier and go into a closet, or a guest bedroom, or somewhere you can close the door and get on your knees. It’s OK, nobody’s looking but God, if the doors are closed.
I also want to challenge you to be a percentage giver, even if it’s just for one month – that any time any dollars come into your hand, the first percentage you give away. If you get a dollar, you give God five cents or a dime or whatever you decide to do, just pick a percentage and stick with it. And don’t be a needs only giver. I’m just going to hold onto my money until I see a really, really sad picture that breaks my heart. Don’t do that. Become a person that says, I’m going to be a priority giver; that I want to remind myself and God that my faith and my confidence is not in my wealth, it’s in God.
Give God your first few minutes; give God your first few dollars, and here is what is going to happen. You’re going to exercise your faith and it’s going to grow. Your confidence in God will grow and deepen and the sense of intimacy that you experience with God will expand as He begins to conquer the things that compete most in your devotion to Him. It’s like exercising a muscle. You may not smile while doing it, but it is a discipline and you will benefit from it. And if you keep it up, it’ll become a habit, a lifestyle, even a joy. Watch how God will use it to grow your faith BIG.
Let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, thank you for the spiritual, private disciplines even if I don’t like them in the moment. Thank you that they help me to release my control and allow you to really work. Thank you that letting go also allows me to have freedom. Wherever we are on this journey of life, Lord, grow our faith BIG. In Jesus’ name, Amen.