When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)
Spiritual disciplines are worthwhile pursuits- things such as prayer, worship, study, fasting, meditation and service. Why are we praying, worshiping, studying, fasting, meditating, or serving? If we are just putting on a show to impress people or to be “holier than thou,” we are wasting our time and effort, but if we are doing these things as part of the natural rhythm of our lives, because we long to live as God created us to live, and to get closer to the heart of God, then we are acting with the proper motive. We don’t need to toot our own horns. Our lives and actions should speak for themselves without us feeling the need to draw attention to them.
In the Lutheran understanding of theology, God comes to us. He comes to us in life and love and creation, in His inspired word (the Bible) and most fully and human in the Person of Jesus. The Holy Spirit works in and through us, empowering us to do what God created us to do.
The opening phrase of Genesis: “In the beginning, God” means everything. We can only do those things that bring us closer to God in response to the gifts He has first given us. This is a Big Deal. We can’t earn, deserve or buy our way into God’s favor. He has already given us His favor, His love, and His grace. We are called to respond to God’s calling for our lives and service and growth because that is His will and purpose for us.
Our culture glorifies posers. It’s trendy to put on a good show. It’s fun to be entertained. It’s human nature to show the world just how great we think we are. But is there substance behind the show? Are we making genuine sacrifices to the glory of God, in response to His love and grace, or is our pious or charitable behavior just a front to make others think we are some kind of great people? Are we doing the right things for the right reasons, or do we just want to look extra holy or extra good when other people are looking?
Jesus calls us to the counter culture. Jesus calls us to be the one who slips an anonymous donation in the food bank box, or to help the person stranded along the road to change a tire. He calls us to be the encourager who tells a frazzled cashier that it will be OK and that her day is going to get better. He wants us to seek Him in the silence of our hearts when no one else is around to see or hear and He has our undivided attention.
Jesus calls us to those small, anonymous acts of kindness that may or may not be remembered, but may be life changing for someone.
Ever wonder about meeting an “angel unaware,“ that anonymous encourager, or the one who pays it forward without leaving a name? Perhaps as Jesus people, we are called to be the “angels unaware?”