Lesson for July 10, 2005 — Matthew 6:1-15By Carmen Andres
Last summer, I planted tomato seedlings in a small garden and a planter pot behind a picket fence in the far corner of my backyard. I fail miserably in gardening endeavors, and this was no exception. Though protected behind the fence from our large dog and toddler curiosity, the plants went virtually untended.
Not surprisingly, the plants produced little. Desperate to succeed with at least one, I moved the potted plant to the patio table near the backdoor. Seeing it every day reminded me to water it regularly. I added plant food to the soil and pruned it as needed. To my delight, that one plant produced more tomatoes than all the others combined.
Later, I realized this same thing should happen spiritually. If we consistently pray, read and study Scripture, give, fast — all those nourishing activities we call the “spiritual disciplines” — we should produce the abundant fruit of love, faithfulness, peace and all other things Christ-like.
But what if we don’t experience that? What if we read our Bibles, pray and give but still feel frustrated, empty or fake? What are we doing wrong?
It could be that we are practicing the disciplines for the wrong reasons. That is something Jesus gets at in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.
Getting the right focus
Jesus is in the midst of describing what life in surrender to God looks like. At some point, it manifests itself outwardly in what Jesus calls “acts of righteousness” (or what we call spiritual disciplines).
But Jesus warns us to watch our motives: “Be especially careful … that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding” (Matt. 6:1, The Message).
When you help someone, Jesus says, “don’t think about how it looks. Just do it — quietly and unobtrusively” (Matt. 6:3-4, Message). When you pray, “don’t turn that into a theatrical production”; instead, “find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage” (Matt. 6:5-6, Message). And don’t treat prayer like a formula for getting what you want from God: “Don’t fall for that nonsense” (Matt. 6:7, Message).
Be God-centered instead of self-centered, Jesus is saying. He illustrates this with an example of how to pray. Begin, he says, with a focus on God (“our Father”) and his will and keep that focus as you acknowledge your dependence on him for things like daily sustenance, forgiveness and spiritual safety and protection (Matt. 6:9-13).
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