““Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1).
Some things ought not to be broadcast. Secrecy and privacy are often the best alternatives. Not everything has to be lived out in the open. Not every story must be told.
But how do we decide what to make public? The line of demarcation sometimes has to do with motivation. Do you want to tell the story so that personal glory will result? Do you want your good works to be seen by others? If that is your drive, your story is best left untold. Let your devotion be secret as you get your priorities back in order.
Jesus taught us how to live out our relationships — with humanity, with God, and with ourselves. In all areas, we must be on guard against the temptation to practice our righteousness to be seen by others. Generosity, prayer, or acts of personal discipline are admirable, but if they are done to become admired, they are dangerous. The cancer of the love of man’s praise had corrupted the Pharisees. Jesus loves us too much to let us fall into the same trap.
So what is the antidote to the love of human approval? Secret allegiance to God: generosity, prayer, and discipline that is unknown to anyone but the God who sees all. Others might inevitably discover your secret obedience to God — not all acts of obedience to God can remain private — but the motivation for the obedience mustn’t be for man’s approval.
But Jesus went on. God sees our secret devotion. Resultantly, reward flows, for God will not be outgiven. Thrice, Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” We quote it, but let us pause upon it. What is this reward Christ speaks of? Again, He taught about three relationships — with humanity, God, and self. So what are the rewards?
When secretly generous God will reward you. How so?
“so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4).
God will provide for all your needs. Jesus would point this out later in this same passage, saying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Paul, when thanking the Philippian church for their financial generosity, told them, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, urging them to follow through on a promise of generosity they’d made to the Jerusalem church, he said, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). So God will interact with His people in the financial realm. The invisible God will manifest Himself in visible ways. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10).
But secret generosity yields many more rewards than the provision of God, though that be a significant blessing. For one, it yields victory over the power of money, for covetousness lies at the door of our hearts. When we are generous, with our fellow man, our local church, or another ministry, we will find a release on the grip money has on us. Money is neither good nor evil, but a tool. Generosity keeps it from tooling us. Second, secret generosity yields victory over the power of possessions, for commercialism has engulfed our society. Third, secret generosity yields victory over the pull of comfort, for we often want to trust money rather than God. Generosity helps us come out of that mindset and into a deeper trust in Him.
But that is not all. Generosity also develops our compassion for others, for in the act of generosity we often come face to face with their hard predicament. Seeing needs, we seek to help the needs. Generosity also aids our prayer lives, for even Bill Gates cannot solve the world’s ills with money. We need the all-powerful God to reach into the direness of our world and aid us. Generosity also increases our love, for you will suddenly find yourself caring for your church, a ministry, or an individual in a fresh way when you are generous towards them, because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). The list could go on, for the reward of the Father for generosity are endless.
When secretly prayerful God will reward you. How so?
“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).
God will help you. He will answer your prayer. One way or another, you, in prayer, have called down the help of the Almighty God. He hears the cry of His people. If asked according to His will, we have the requests we’ve asked for (see 1 John 5:14-15). He will help us. But how does this help often come?
In prayer, God will encourage us. As we unload our burdened hearts before Him, He will deliver some word or perspective that strengthens your heart. This experience, rewarding in every way, will keep you coming back in prayer. In prayer, our trust for God will build and rebuild, for we are a constant struggle between faith and fear. As you pray, your trust in Him will often rise. In prayer, worries abate. Like waves from the ocean, worry never ceases to crash upon us. But prayer is a way in which our fears are transferred to God. In prayer, heart change occurs, for we cannot come face to face with God without being changed. We do not change Him in prayer; He changes us.
But there is more. In prayer, we gain a heavenly focus, for all we see is earth. While crying out to an invisible God, we are entering the invisible, yet truer, dimension. We need to walk by faith and not by sight; prayer helps us do so. In prayer, we find grace and mercy to help us in our time of need. The grace might come in the form of energy for a task, wisdom for a decision, or hope for a situation. In prayer, we become more dependant upon God, and less dependent upon ourselves and others, a transaction which is always rewarding.
But fellowship with God is one of the greatest rewards of prayer. To lean more on Him and less on the self or on others is never bad. As God becomes more personal to you, more real to your heart, you grow. Much more could be said, for prayer is one of the richest and rewarding experiences possible for the Christian. The potential is great.
When you fast secretly, God will reward you. How so?
“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).
In his book, God’s Chosen Fast, Arthur Wallis holds out a handful of scriptural benefits the believer gains through fasting. Personal growth (Psalm 69:10), the ear of God (Ezra 8:23, Jonah 3), spiritual freedom (Isaiah 58:6), revelation from God (Daniel 9), and victory over the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:12-13) are all mentioned. The secret practice of self-denial, in the form of fasting, will lead to growth on various levels.
But we must not reduce the self-denial of fasting, and its benefits, to a tight cluster of benefits, for the benefits actually branch out it into multitudinous fruit. When a believer fasts, or practices any form of secret, Spirit-led self-denial, strength over the appetites of the sinful flesh grows. We ought not to think of fasting, or any form of self-denial, as a way to earn God’s favor, for we have His favor freely given to us by the cross of Christ. Grace, for the believer, is already theirs. We already have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). But fasting, or other forms of self-denial, might allow us to tap into those blessings.
Are you in need of strength to become more self-controlled? Secretly fast and watch God increase your resolve. Are you in need of power for a task God has asked you to engage in? Secretly fast and watch God build your strength? Are you in need of direction from God? Secretly fast and, in His own time and in His own way (for we cannot push God around), God will answer.
So secret devotion to our Father in heaven leads to great reward to our Father in heaven. This is all of grace, for every step of the way He is with us. He urges us along and serves us better than we, and as we, serve Him. He will never be outgiven, so a wage is never what He gives. No, relationship with our Father can only be described one way: rewarding.