Notes on


For 21st Century Disciples



"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."                                                                                               Matthew 6:1


Your piety is your underwear.  You never wear it on the outside.

The major portion of our relationship with God is to remain hidden --- exclusively between the Father and ourselves.


Whenever we use our connection with God to impress human eyes, we lose our reward from God --- i.e. our connection with God, his response to our act of devotion. 


The reward for our attempts to please God through almsgiving, prayer, fasting, is that God answers our focus on him with a response of his choice:


Peace…and awareness of his presence…an answer to our heart-cry….sometimes the only thing we get is strength to keep going.


But all this is blunted when we try to use our

"piety" to win human recognition. 









"Thus when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."                                                                     Matthew 6:2-4


Keep a low profile when you give, when you perform acts of service.


Don't make a production out of it.  Keep it, as much as possible, a secret between you and God.


And don't make a production out of keeping it secret.  Just give and serve as simply and matter-of-factly as possible.

Jesus is teaching us to form the habit of letting him live his life in us --- doing it his way.


Jesus never made a production out of his signs of healing.  He kept it simple.


"Go, wash in the pool of Siloam."
"Stretch out your hand."

"Rise, take up your pallet and walk."


When he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, he put everybody out of the room except her parents and

Peter, James and John. 


Jesus did all these things in the power and will of his Father, and never exploited these signs to gain recognition.


The minute we use our giving, our acts of mercy, to promote ourselves, we have our reward, and the life of heaven dries up.


On the other hand, when we give, help out, do acts of mercy, the Lord's way --- secretly, before the eyes of God --- then his reward enters into what we do.  His presence enters this act of giving, mercy, kindness; life from heaven flows through our quiet gift.




"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  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 6:5-6


Praying on street corners won't get us much mileage in our culture.  But the principle still holds.


It's fine to pray in a group --- prayer meetings, Sunday worship, Bible Study.


But our prayers lose their power when aimed at the human audience instead of the Father.  Then we "have our reward."


Our group prayers are more likely to be true prayer when we begin where Jesus tells us to begin:


 --- in our room with the door shut.


 --- in secret before the Father, who sees in secret.


 --- away from any human audience.


 --- where our ego is not tempted to rise up on flowery wings.


 --- where we don’t have to be afraid of "sounding

       silly."  The heavenly Father won't laugh at us as

       we stumble along. 


"And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."


 --- with his presence, his listening ear, his redemptive power, his unpredictable and amazing answers.


Alone with the Father we "get our reward," have our peace restored, come back into focus.


Often in silence before God.  Sometimes with words that rise out of our hearts which we did not know were there.

If we're having trouble with our private prayers to God, it's always helpful to turn to the Psalms.  i.e. Psalm 63, 23, 27, 46….or to a New Testament passage like Philippians 4:4-7.


            But, best of all, we turn to the Lord's prayer…..


"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this:


'Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

            On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

And forgive us our debts,

            As we also have forgiven our debtors;

And lead us not into temptation,

            But deliver us from evil.'"



"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."                            Matthew 6:7-15


"Heaping up empty phrases"…the minute we try to score points with God by the number of times we repeat ourselves, we are "heaping up empty phrases."  Our "prayers" have slid into the sphere of the manipu-lative. 


"Pray then like this…."


Once you are a disciple of Jesus, yielded to the power of the Spirit, the focus of your prayers is no longer your program but God and his program.  Hence….




"Our Father who art in heaven."


"Our"….not "my."

"Father"…don't dilute the word by eliminating "sexism"  i.e.    "Our Creator."  Jesus gave us the word, "Father."


            God is neither male nor female, but he is your Father.

Once you are born of the Spirit, he is especially and truly your Father.


"Who art in heaven"…"You are on the throne of power, you

 alone are in control."


"Hallowed be thy name."


"We take off our shoes before your holy presence.  We bow with trembling before your shining glory. We hallow your very name."


            Awe before God is the doorway to all prayer.


"Thy kingdom come."


  1. "Lord, speed the arrival of your kingdom in its fullness."
  2. "Lord, send your kingdom into our hearts by flooding us with your Spirit."


"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


God's permissive will:  He allows Satan to continue to do his thing—up to a point.


He allows the human race to choose the way of the Lie --- up to a point.   


God's redemptive will:  Perfect holy love.  Perfect truth.  Life that reflects the Father's heart.  Where God's perfect will is done in heaven, the center of authority in the universe.


God's perfect will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven.


But our prayers somehow are joined to his perfect will, and causing a breakthrough of mercy and truth from heaven into this realm of hardness and deceit.




"Give us this day our daily bread."


Our daily bread:  needs met by our Father one day at a time --- all needs:  Food, clothing, shelter, finances, transportation.

Of course we work, use our brains, take initiative --- but always under God.


"And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."


The essential link between God's forgiveness, flowing to us ... and our forgiveness flowing to those around us. 


Our plea for God's forgiveness hinges on our forgiveness of those who have wronged us. 


Our connection with God can only remain alive by the constant maintenance of our connection with our sisters, brothers, neighbors.


This is not an "option list" for super-saints, this is the dead-earnest requirement of the living God for every follower of Jesus.


If we are having problems putting it into practice, we confess our need and cry out to God for help.


"And lead us not into temptation."


"Do not lead us into hard testing." 

"Spare us from flames of trial that are beyond our strength."


Why would Jesus teach us to pray such a prayer?


            Because the heavenly Father answers such a



The path each of us travels will always lead through regions of trial.


No disciple of Jesus is spared trials and temptations.


But we are asking the Father to order our steps and guard our path, that we don't

become overwhelmed by temptation --- of success … of failure … of compromise …

of despair … of secret addiction ... of overwhelming evil … of overwhelming suffering.


"But deliver us from evil."


Jesus never portrays evil as a vacuum, the absence of good. 

Jesus presents evil as a spiritual power which attacks and seeks to conquer human minds through deception.


Evil already has a grip on us.  ("If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…..")  A grip from which we need to be delivered.


"Deliver us from evil" are not idle words.  They are an essential prayer Jesus teaches us to pray.


Our Father knows what we need before we ask him. 

But our asking is an  essential  part of God's redemptive program for us.


When we acknowledge our need, and cry out in our need, things begin to happen.  i.e. "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"


"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;  but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."


This is a warning which Jesus repeats again and again.


Jesus died on the cross for the whole human race.  "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"


But the instant we refuse to forgive, we block the flow of grace. 


"But what if I just can't forgive someone for what he did to me…or to my child?"


Take it to God and lay it all before him.


"Father, I find that I cannot come up to what you call for!  Help me!"  

                                    - And he will.




"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."                                                               Matthew 6:16-18



             --- from food

             --- from any legitimate pleasure or comfort,

                         --- not to "put God over a barrel,"

                         --- not to gain "brownie points" to collect later,

                        but to concentrate on God,

                        to focus,

to impress on your own body, mind and spirit that God's kingdom comes first.


Fasting to manipulate God never works.


Read Isaiah 58:3-5


Fasting to manipulate God is always double-minded: our mind is not on God, but on our own concerns.

Fasting…without repentance, without focus on God…is still doing our own thing.


Fasting to focus on God and his program brings us into fellowship with him.

                        Read Isaiah 58:6-9a


Fasting is concentration on God via the removal of legitimate comforts:


 --- food, music, a comforting habit, etc.  Shutting

       the door on distractions.


"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men…."


They are not concentrating on God and his will.  They are performing before a human audience --- from which "they have their reward."


"But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men…."


So that your fast remains a secret between you and God.


"And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."



Leave it up to the Father.  (Your praying and fasting for your child is not wasted --- ever.  But God decides how, when and where he will respond.)

i.e. Esther leaves the results up to God.


Read Esther 4:11-17


Esther and her supporters are going to concentrate on

God through fasting, praying for Esther's safety as she goes before the king.  But Esther does not try to dictate

the outcome. 



"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."                                                       Matthew 6:19-21


"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…."


Treasures on earth are never secure.

Treasures on earth are a distraction from the kingdom,

 --- money, a "status castle," a reputation, a position of



"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…"

 --- which are secure, free from moth, rust, thieves.


But what are "treasures in heaven?"


Salvation is a gift.  We don't earn it.  We don't lay it up.  We simply receive it and live it.  But everything we do, as we live out the salvation we have received, registers in heaven.


Read II Timothy 4:6-8


Read Matthew 25:31-36

We don't earn our way to heaven.  Heaven comes to us as a gift through Jesus' atoning death, as the Holy Spirit begins to rule us from within.


But now everything we do as servants of God has a heavenly connection.


Hence, God is our treasure…heaven is our treasure --- not money, or "success" etc.


"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."


An axiom



"The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"                                                               Matthew 6:22-23


"The eye is the lamp of the body."


What we look at…what we "drink in" ... what we see with our mind's eye --- floods our body, our being, with either Truth or



"If your eye is sound….."


…if it sees Truth,

 --- it beholds a person loved by God, rather than an object

       of lust.


 --- it sees money and things for what they are, rather than

       objects of greed.


Then the whole body, the whole "being" is filled with light from God.


"If your eye is not sound…."


…if it sees Illusion,

 --- it beholds an object of lust.

 --- it looks upon an object of greed.


 --- it is tempted to believe that what it sees could be

       his/hers for the taking.


Then the whole body (being) is filled with darkness: darkness of the Lie from the kingdom of darkness. 


The Lie:  "This thing (money, cars, mansions, sex, etc.) will fulfill you."


The eye selects what it chooses to see…to focus on…to dwell on.


We cannot control what comes dancing into our field of vision.


But we can control what we choose to focus on.

Are we looking with a sound eye or an unsound eye?

Are we opening ourselves to light or to darkness? 


"If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"


If you look at the object of lust or greed long enough, you will soon do more than look. 


You will begin to reach out and take.

You will enter into your illusion.

You will be sucked into the darkness.


Whether the eye is sound or unsound is not a matter of our DNA.  It's our focus.


Once we begin to follow Jesus, we are given power to reject the unsound eye and walk through the world with a sound eye,


 --- to see people as people, not as things to exploit.


 --- to see mammon for what it is: practice material put

      into our hands by God , to be used faithfully for him. 



"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."                              Matthew 6:24


For people who have not yet come into the kingdom this statement is meaningless.


They will serve money, power, status, "things," --- without conflict.

It's simple.  You get money so you can live the good life.  You get power so people can't push you around.  This is what makes the world go round.


Since the beginning of history, money and sex have been the drivers.


But once you become a disciple --- that's where the conflict begins.


Now you can't make up your mind whether your security is in God or in money.


With your mouth you say that your security is in God.

But the way you deal with the issues of daily life proves that when push comes to shove, it's money.


"Wait a minute!" you say.  "I tithe.  I give to charity.  I live modestly."


We can do all these things and still be hooked on money, when it comes to the practical decisions of daily life.


Understand, this is an issue which is strictly between each of us and God. We have no way of knowing what's going on in another person's heart. 


But we each have to ask, knowing that our hearts are open to God, "Where is my trust?  Where is my security?" --- (Whether our income is sufficient, or more than sufficient, or insufficient, this question applies.)


If my security is in God, then he calls the shots, and I handle money --- all of it --- before his eye.


I am faithful to God in the way I use the unrighteous mammon.


If, in spite of my sound doctrinal position and my vocal profession of faith in Jesus, money is still my basic security, then, whether I have much or little, the way I handle money will be warped and twisted by my anxieties.


            I'm serving mammon.  

But suppose I'm not sure which I'm serving, and I cry out, "Lord, show me, make it clear to me.  Show me what you see.  Am I serving you?  Or am I serving mammon?"


Then, in his mercy, the Father will begin to open my eyes.  And I may be in for a few surprises.


This is an issue which is never once-and-done.  We have to keep dealing with it all our lives. 


Jesus gives us this teaching: "You cannot serve God and mammon," not to make us feel guilty, not to put us on the defensive, but to guide us into true freedom --- into the true riches of his kingdom, here in this life.



So now he enlarges on the theme, dealing with the anxiety in us which makes us mammon-slaves…


"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….."


There is not one of us who can say, "No problem for me.  I've learned to live by faith.  I never worry about the future.  I never get caught up in money anxiety!"


The truth is, we worry more than we admit to ourselves.  And it shows in our lack of generosity, our obsession with security…our worry about the future.


Jesus is speaking here about the basics.  Hence his words are never out-dated.  This teaching applies to us and to all disciples of all time, until his return.


"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"                                                                                                    Matthew 6:25


"Life more than food."


As far as Jesus is concerned, true life is a relationship with the


The birds are ahead of us in this.  They live their bird lives without scheming and greed.  They fly around and sing praise to God, and he takes care of them, knows them, watches over them…..



"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?"                                                        Matthew 6:26-27


Jesus is talking to us as his disciples, who have heard the call to live by faith in God.  Are we living by faith?


Do we believe --- and live our belief --- that the Father is watching over us, providing for us,  protecting us, as we go about his business?



"And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

                                                                                    Matthew 6:28-29


Mere poetry?  Jesus never gets mushy.  This is burning truth.  Jesus sees, and is helping us to see, our basic needs in life are being provided --- not by us --- but by the Father.


We work, but God provides.

We receive our income as God's provision.

When we shop for groceries, clothing, shoes, cars, we still think of it as God's provision. 



"But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and

tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,

O men of little faith?"                                                 Matthew 6:30


See it all as God's provision, and give thanks!