Making it Real

Matthew 6: 2

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

Last week we looked at verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” We said this was Jesus’ opening statement, disclosing that he was going to speak about practicing righteousness and being rewarded by God for so doing. This week, let us continue by asking what Jesus means by “practicing righteousness.”

Many of us may not think that righteousness is a practice. We may think it is a goal to be pursued, or perhaps an ideal which cannot be achieved this side of heaven. Jesus’ teaching should immediately challenge our perception. As I read the first verse, I find myself curious and expectant. How do we practice righteousness? Jesus said this is a practice which we are not to do before men in order to be noticed by them. That means, it may be something we do in the sight of others, but not for any emotional or tangible reward we get from a public display. Second, Jesus may be suggesting that righteousness is also practiced in private. Okay, we are with you so far Jesus, but what is the practice of righteousness? Is it public prayer? Is it church service? Tell us what to do in order to practice righteousness!

In verse two Jesus begins to show us this practice. Giving alms, that means money, is an act of righteousness. Two things hit me when I read this. First, I wasn’t surprised that God would treat giving as an act of righteousness. He often responds to occurrences by giving (John 3: 16) and encourages, even expects us to do the same. The other reaction I had was disappointment. I was looking for something more holy than donating money.

That’s just like us, isn’t it? We look for a spiritual ritual of great magnitude and holiness that will set us apart from this mundane earthly experience. Instead, we find Jesus teaching us that righteousness is practical, hence, a practice. It is as simple as giving money. Are you kidding me? As I read verse two, I could scarcely read it because I quickly began to scan below to find the “holy” answer. Was this really the answer to my question about how I am to practice righteousness? In verse two Jesus told us what not to do. Verses three and four contain instructions of what to do, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Is this as loud to you as it was to me? These verses find Jesus instructing us on practicing righteousness, declaring this is something we can and should do. Second, practicing righteousness is as simple and ordinary as giving money. Third, when we perform this very modest act, our Father in heaven rewards us. Wow! I think that is amazing.

Jesus revealed a spiritual truth, a holy practice, and it turns out that it is something I can do easily. However, I must do this simple practice of giving in private, not bragging or shouting about my great righteousness, not banging a gong, or even whispering a secret. I give and no one knows how much, and God reckons that as righteousness! I am astounded at this teaching.

Moreover, Jesus revealed that God wants to reward us. He encourages us to practice righteous giving by promising to reward us. I know that we think to expect a reward is unholy and vile, but in our sanctimonious fervor, we imply that we are more holy than God! Can you see that? If rewarding us is God’s response to our practicing righteousness, then how can the reward or the act of rewarding be anything less than holy? Didn’t we say, above, that giving is how God responds? How, then, can it be anything less than holy? We are emulating the Father when we give, and He rewards us for acting as He acts. That reward is just the simple act of Him giving. It causes me to wonder if we will ever find an act that is more holy.

Next week, we will see what else Jesus had to say about practicing righteousness. In the meantime, enjoy your practice!

Practice Time

Galatians 6: 9

Let us not lose heart in doing good for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

My swim coach taught us that practice hurts less than losing so I learned to love practice. My basketball coach taught that you play like you practice so I learned to practice at full speed. These were good life lessons that have served me well.

Our heavenly Father is a coach too. One thing which has been very evident to me recently is that He will give you a chance to practice your theology. I very much believe in the spiritual law of sowing and reaping. I speak it, I teach it. So, God created a couple of opportunities for me to teach this principle as well as to practice my theology. It’s one thing to have a minister preach a topic and quite another to have to live it out. Last week I taught about one of my favorite spiritual weapons, giving. When the devil is really seriously in your stuff pull out your checkbook and give to an anointed ministry. He hates that. Today’s verse is in the same vein. It tells us just to keep on giving for in due time we will reap. So, don’t sow looking for the crop. Sow in faith because it sometimes takes a bit of time for the crop to manifest. It works exactly like a garden. You don’t plant a seed one day and pick the vegetables the next. It takes a little time. Well, another adage might be, don’t preach a topic that you don’t want to have to live. So, last week I taught about sowing and the Father gave me some opportunities to practice what I preach.

I went to Waffle House one day last week. I was eating my breakfast and reading my book when there was a big hullabaloo down the bar from me. A gentleman had just seated himself and announced that it was his birthday and whatsmore, it was his 60th birthday. The people around him clapped and cheered and as I looked at him I could tell that it was important to him. Then, eureka, a thought came to me, “Buy his meal.” Okay, that isn’t so hard. I asked his server to bring me his ticket and I would pay for it. She really enjoyed being a part of the blessing. As I paid I asked her to mark the ticket “Paid” and write Happy Birthday on it and then give it to him. She said, with a big smile, that she had already thought of that. It was a good experience. Later in the week I realized what God had done. He let me practice the message I gave someone else. Okay, cool!

Then yesterday I was driving to an appointment when I witnessed something interesting. I was stopped at a traffic light and a truck turned left in front of me. As he entered the lane of traffic I saw a woman standing in the median waving him down. The lady was from a McDonalds across the street. This guy had driven off without his drink and she ran him down in the street with his drink and a straw. It was amazing. I mean, how often does that happen? Then I heard a thought cross my mind, “You ought to go give that lady a $1 tip for showing excellence in her job.” Well, I wasn’t opposed to the idea but I was running late so I relegated the thought to the back of my mind. After my appointment I had to drive right by that McDonalds. I felt a tug towards it but I don’t usually eat fast food so I blew it off. I turned the corner headed to the highway ramp when that whole situation came back to my mind loud and clear. So I turned into the shopping center and went to McDonalds and gave the lady the $1 tip from God. There were two managers standing there with big smiles on their faces and they actually did cheer this lady. Again, it was cool.

The moral of the story is be careful what you teach or preach because God is going to give you a chance to practice your theology. It you preach on giving, be prepared to be a giver. If you preach on prayer, get used to praying. God would have us lead by example rather than from command. Don’t tell others to do something you are unwilling to do yourself. God is growing champions but they are forged in the fires of doing rather than the talking. Be ready. It is time for practice.