Lately I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, particularly chapter six and Jesus’ requirement that the forms of spiritual formation be kept secret. When you give, he says, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When you pray, go into the closet and lock the door. When you fast, have a shower and clean up so that no one knows what you have been up to. In short, spiritual formation is supposed to happen in secret. It is what we do with God and for God. It is not about making the right kind of impression on others. My struggle with all this has been that as a leader and as a parent I find myself wanting to set a good example. I find that I want to be seen to be spiritual so that I’m modeling patterns of spiritual formation for my children and for others around me. I want them to see my praying and giving and living out the disciplines of the faith because I want them to pick up on these same things. But it’s hard to get past what Jesus is saying. The forms of spiritual discipline are not to be displayed. It is the fruit of the Spirit that ought to be observable. Spiritual discipline is like the skeleton that supports the system on the inside, but it is not supposed to be visible from the outside. We must pray, we must give, we must be disciplined, it’s just that these are not the things that ought to show. Rather than being known as a person who does spiritual things, I want to be known as a person who displays the character of God. I want to be known as a person who displays the fruits of the spiritual life – displaying a love, joy, peace, and patience so profound that people want to know where it comes from and what it’s all about. Our spiritual practice is for God’s eyes only.
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