The Spiritual Practices put us in a place where we are better able to interact with our environment and God. God can then reach inside our spirits and transform them. Just as our body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, drink, sleep, etc., so our spiritual self needs to make sure it is being sustained, cared for, and trained. The results include spiritual growth, a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, evidence of the fruit of the spirit, and the ultimate goal, living life like Jesus did.
The Spiritual Practices are not:
- Meritorious laws that earn favor with God
- A way to show how spiritually mature we are
- Unpleasant or difficult
Instead, they are:
- Activities we do that when practiced allow us to do activities we cannot now do.
- Adaptable to work with our temperaments and gifts
- Adjustable according to the rhythm and seasons of our lives
There are two kinds:
Abstinence – when we stop doing something that is perfectly normal to allow ourselves to focus more on God, His Word, and growing in godliness. These also help us resist our tendency toward sins of commission (when we do something we shouldn’t do). We withdraw to breathe in all that God can provide to us, breaking the hold that the world has on our lives. Practices of Abstinence help ready us and create room for the Practices of Engagement.
Engagement – when we do certain activities that help us grow in Christ and obey his commandments. The Practices of Abstinence have opened up the time and broken up the preoccupations so we are now free to learn of, focus on, and practice those things that God commands us to do. These assist in keeping us from our tendency toward sins of omission (not doing the things we should do). We engage to breathe out all that God commands us.
This Journey Element requires more time than most to complete so break it down into sections. The two opportunities to Comment provide obvious breaking points.
Living Free from what others think
People Pleasing, Look at Me!, Showing off, Tooting my own Horn, Managing our Image, Taking Credit, Being Seen, Making a Good Impression, Hanging with the Right Crowd, Making the A List, Being in the IN Crowd, Commanding respect……
All these and more are symptoms of lives in desperate need of the Practice of Secrecy.
Trying too hard to look good.
Some of us care too much about what others think. We are constantly comparing, competing, trying to impress, envious of others, and end up in bondage, captive to what others think, say, or believe about us.
It always starts with the comparing, measuring ourselves and our accomplishments against those of others, never being satisfied. We begin to shade the truth, embellishing, exaggerating, making excuses, justifying ourselves with endless explanations of our true motives, hiding our true selves. This exhausting and endless process eventually leads us to resent the very people whose approval we seek.
We want to be noticed for what we do well.
We will also avoid saying what we truly think if it might bring disapproval from those we value. While praise, affirmation, and encouragement are good things, necessary to learn to both give and receive, instead we are to focus our efforts on the giving part, while learning to receive graciously when it is given to us.
We seek approval based on our accomplishments in a variety of areas:
- How much money we have, earn, spend, etc.
- Our social status, club, neighborhood, selective groups
- What we own and if we own it first
- Our beauty, fitness, sex appeal
- Our accomplishments or heroism
- Our popularity
- Our career advancement, success, or achievements
- Our education
- Greater numbers or record breaking, awards
- Compliments, tweets, Facebook Friends, LIKES
- Struggles or trials we have recovered from
- News coverage and fame, followers, rankings
This very same highly sought approval will also come crashing down when any criticism, isolation, and judgment is received. We tend to confuse our performance or approval by others with our worth as people, instead of looking to God for the satisfaction only He can provide.
The antidote to all this is the Practice of Secrecy, which leaves it up to God alone to decide what should and should not be noticed by others. It is the opposite of our constant approval seeking and image management since it teaches us to enjoy being anonymous, freeing us from the impact opinions of others have over our lives.
John 12:43 states the problem very simply. “For they loved human praise more than they love God.”
Jesus is our example in word and deed
- Prior to his very first miracle, turning water into wine, Jesus told his mother it was not yet His time to go public with His Mission and Being. (John 2:1-2)
- When Jesus entered towns he often tried to keep it a secret that he was there. (Mark 7:24).
- After teaching the swelling crowds in town after town, he would then withdraw by himself or with his disciples. (Luke 4:42)
- Jesus told his brothers his time had not yet come and that He was not on public display. (John 7:1-9)
- Jesus even told the demons to keep quiet about who He really was. (Mark 1:25, 34, 3:12)
- Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was indeed the Son of God but then Jesus told him not to tell anyone yet. (Matthew 16:20)
- And also after his transfiguration he told the disciples not to tell anyone about seeing his glory. (Matthew 17:9, Mark 9:9)
- But Jesus taught us to follow his example of humility: to pray to their Father in secret, to do our good works quietly, to seek God’s praise and not people’s, and to put aside all selfish ambition (Matthew 6:1-18).
Paul reminds us that God decides when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed in Philippians 2. Peter and James confirm that humility is the main ingredient in a closer walk with God. (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6)
And Secrecy is one of the main ingredients of humility. Without secrecy it’s impossible to be humble. Likewise, all those who are genuinely humble, practice the discipline of secrecy.
Benefits of Practicing Secrecy
Eventually, very slowly, the practice of Secrecy will change our lives from the inside out. The spiritual practices are not an end in themselves, but are to allow us to grow spiritually in different areas. This practice deals with the area of humility and pride.
This does not mean we do not present our best, be our best, and do our best. This does not mean you must do everything in secret or that you can never talk about yourself. The goal is to place our need for God’s approval over our need for the approval of other people.
Eventually we will see the following changes begin to appear in our lives.
- We lose desire for fame, justification, or attention from others and refocus our efforts on pleasing God.
- Our Walk of Faith stabilizes as our relationship with God becomes independent of the opinions of others.
- We rise above the Praise and Blame Game we play with ourselves and others
- Our Humility increases because, like John the Baptist, Jesus can only increase as we decrease.
- Secrecy becomes a tangible expression of our abiding trust in God.
- Giving away something helps us to be less enslaved by it – we experience freedom and joy.
- It is ok to receive praise, encouragement and affirmation. In fact, God encourages us to give that to others, so He will encourage others to give it to us.
The practice of secrecy involves two different elements.
ONE: We are to abstain from causing our good deeds or qualities from becoming known. This helps us to move closer to that illusive quality of humility and takes away any reward of fame or recognition. Eventually our reward will simply be the thrill of giving, period. The motive will be to obey and please God, and not to gain approval, recognition, make a good impression, or expect a reciprocal deed done for us.
TWO: We are to free ourselves from the need to be our own public relations firm. Much of our conversation tends to be about justifying our actions, thoughts, situations, opinions, as well as promoting ourselves and what we have done, own, and know. The focus is always on us, where Jesus wants our focus to be on God and others. We will never be able to please everyone. There will always be someone who looks better than us.
Ways to Begin to Practice Secrecy
1. Pay attention to your conversations and notice how much you talk about yourself. Also pay attention to how you listen, what you are thinking about while someone else is talking.
2. Pay attention to how often you do the following to improve your image: blame others, diminish others, justify your actions, make excuses, seek the limelight, compete with others, seek the last word, prove your point at all costs, bring the conversation back to yourself.
3. Do a good deed in secret: Absolutely no one can know. Be prepared to share how hard it was to do, and how you felt after. These can be done intentionally for some one with a great need, or anonymously and randomly. Some ideas to start with are listed below.
- Pay someone’s rent or other bill
- Leave groceries on someone’s front porch
- Mail someone cash – make sure there is no return address on the envelope.
- Pay for food at another table in a restaurant
- Pay for the person behind you (or two or three cars behind you) in the drive thru line or the bridge/highway toll lane
- Mow someone’s lawn
- Leave a gift on someone’s desk, porch, in their car, purse, etc.
- Make an anonymous donation to a fund for someone in great need (medical, disaster, etc.)
- Buy something you know someone really wants/needs and have it delivered anonymously
- Leave a gift for the next person in the bathroom stall
- Order takeout food for delivery and have it sent to someone else. Make sure you pay for it.
- Pick a day and do good deeds for those around you without letting them know you are watching and waiting to serve them. The secret in this case is your motives and that you have no personal agenda. Anticipate every need.
4. Pray for others to be more outstanding, more praised, more useful of God than yourself. Rejoice in their success.
5. Allow God to tell others about your needs. God provides faithfully for those who trust Him and in return our faith is greatly increased in God.
6. If you use social media, begin to pay attention to what and why you post, comment, LIKE, SHARE, Tweet, etc. How can this reveal ways we manage our image. How can we use these tools in a less self glorifying, more positive way?
You get the idea. This will take some planning and scheming. Have fun! Remember no one can ever know.
Personal Reflections on Secrecy:
1. According to the following verses, what should our motivation be for our good works, success, achievements, performance, etc.?
1 Corinthians 10:31:
2. List some of the ways you manage your own public relations or image.
3. Whose approval do you seek and why?
4. Are you more apt to Praise or Blame? Build yourself up or tear someone else down? Brag or criticize?
5. What did you learn through “paying attention to your conversations” with others?
6. What part of the “doing a good deed in secret” blessed you the most? What was the most difficult part? Will you do it again?
7. Do you believe God will tell others about your needs? How does this motivate you to respond when God tells you about someone else’s needs?
8. If we do our good deeds with the proper Godly motivations, they will shine all on their own. What happens when they shine? Who is responsible for when the recognition comes?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the Personal Reflections on Secrecy questions. Also share anything you learned from practicing Secrecy.
Dallas Willard – “Secrecy at its best teaches love and humility before God and others. And that love and humility encourages us to see our associates in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do better and appear better than us.”
Jesus – “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 NIV
John Ortberg – “When you are in your twenties, someone once wrote, you live to please other people. When you are in your thirties, you get tired of trying to please others, so you get miffed with them for making you worry about it. When you are in your forties, you realize nobody was thinking about you anyway.”
Paul – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 NIV
Jesus – “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6: 2-4 NIV
Don Carson – “We start out for the goal of pleasing the Father, but it’s soon traded in for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men. We start off with the goal of genuine holiness, and end up settling for external piety.”
Secrecy leads to uprooting hypocrisy. We eventually begin to do the right things for the right reasons instead of the wrong reasons.
Jesus – “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6: 5-6 NIV
Dallas Willard – “One of the greatest fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief, is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to be known.”
References for the above quotes can be found in the back of the PDF version of Hot, Hot, Hot.
(In your own journal, the PDF, or the Comments section of this post)
Pick one or two of the above quotes or statements and share any insights or challenges it presents to you.
The next post is Hot, Hot, Hot 8: Journal 8.4 – Real Life Consequences.