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Warning: Personal Discipline Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

You’re doing all the right things - reading your Bible, going to church, being generous with your finances - but you feel spiritually dead inside. What’s wrong? Chip reveals the danger of becoming too disciplined in both your personal and spiritual life.

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Message Transcript

I’m going to give you a pop quiz, and this is a for real one, okay? So, don’t think, like, Oh, this is kind of a nice illustration – no, no, no.

You’ll notice on your notes, it says, “To what degree” – it’s a biblical priorities pop quiz – “To what degree have you taken specific steps in the following areas?” And I told you earlier that I had that moment with Prof Hendricks, where he went over to the board, and he told us, remember? “Guys, God loves you right now as much as He’ll ever love you. The issue is, who do you really want to be?”

And then, in big letters, he wrote the word OBJECTIVES. And then, under that, he wrote, PRIORITIES. And then, under that, he wrote the word SCHEDULE. And then, he wrote DISCIPLINE. And then he wrote ACCOUNTABILITY.

Now, as we take this pop quiz, some of you are very intense. You’re trying to be very deeply honest. Would you be – you know, give yourself a good grade, okay? Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll notice, there’s a little box. I actually want you to put a number in the box. And so, I’m going to give it, you know, the definition on the quiz, and then, if you say, “None,” put a one. If you – Well, a little, put a two. If you’ve started, you know, and you’re kind of doing okay, or even making some progress, put a three.

If you’re making some good progress – and by the way, some of you are so hard on yourself. If you feel like when we get to accountability, it’s, Oh, I meet with some people, and I’m doing some things, well, give yourself a four. And then, if you feel like, I am vigorously pursuing this. I mean, man, I am intense in this area, and I’m really trying to do what God wants me to do, give yourself a five. So, have you got it? There’s the scoring.

Question number one objectives: “Moving from vague ideas to specific decisions about the kind of person I want to become and what I want to accomplish.”

Question number two – priorities. This is about how you spend your time, how you spend your money, the order: “Ordering my life in such a way, that the important and eternal are not forfeited by the pressing and the urgent.”

Third – some of you are, I just can’t – am I really a three, or is it a four? Just – okay. Third is schedule: “Determining specifically how and when I will place the important and eternal in my daily life.”

Next is discipline, doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done; choosing to habitually delay gratification of short-term pleasure, in order to more fully enjoy long-term success. How are you doing there?

Final one is accountability: “Enlisting the support of those who love me to help me keep my commitments to God.”

Now, I want you to do something – it might be crazy – is, put a line under that, and I want you to add up those numbers.

We’re about a little over halfway through this series together, and so I thought we’d do a little evaluation. If you added those up, and if your total score was between a five and a ten, you have heard but not acted at all. If you – your score is between eleven and a fifteen, you’ve begun to take some initial steps toward what God wants you to be and balancing your life and biblical priorities.

If your score is between a fifteen or a twenty, your life is actually changing. If you’re between a twenty or a twenty-five, I think God will have a special word for all of us, but especially for you.

We’re going to look at two warnings from Jesus. You’ll notice, even the title of this message is “Personal Discipline Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.” “Warning” – flashing lights – “Personal Discipline” – and we talked about how important it is, that it’s from the Spirit of God, that we need to be disciplined, right? Now, it’s time out, before you get too focused, too fired up, personal discipline can be hazardous to your spiritual health. There are two great dangers in becoming a highly focused, highly disciplined, authentic follower of Christ.

Danger number one is the danger of distortion. Jesus warns that we can easily distort the purpose of spiritual activities.

You’ll notice that you have, in your notes, Matthew chapter 5. And then, in your notes, you also see a structure, or overview, of Matthew chapter 5. The context is verses 1 and 2: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up into the mountainside and He sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying…”

Obviously, in our time together, I can’t go through all of this in much detail. But I want you to see the structure. Verses 3 through 12, He’s going to say the reward and the character of true followers look like this.

And then, in verses 13 through 16, He’s going to say when that kind of character is lived out by the grace of God, in relationship with Him, you are literally the salt and the light of the world. He’s saying be worthy examples. And then, after that, then, He’s going to – He’s going to have to tie it in, because they’ve spent all their time as little boys in the synagogue listening to the Pharisees teach. And Moses is the great teacher.

And so, Jesus is going to, He is declaring Himself and His message and His followers. And then, He’s going to say, “Where do I, in My teaching, fit with what you’ve heard all your life, with Moses?” And He’s going to make a very radical statement in verse 20, and He’s going to talk about true righteousness.

So, have you got the structure? So, with that, just listen. Let’s listen, first, to the reward and character of His followers: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In fact, blessed are you when people insult you, and persecute you falsely and say all kind of evil things against you because of Me.”

You see the role He’s taking? “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And so, He gives a character quality – the poor in spirit, someone who sees their need before God – and then, He gives the reward. The character quality, the reward; the character quality, the reward. He says, “This is an authentic follower of Mine.”

And then, He goes from that to impact: What’s the role? How do you live? “You are.” He doesn’t say “become”, He doesn’t say “do”. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It’s no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

And in their minds, when He said “good works”, the good works that would immediately come to their mind would be the good works of the Pharisees. I mean, all the good works, all the duties, all the rules, all the stuff.

And He’s going to just lay it out: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands” – did you notice the emphasis? Practices and teaches.

What’s His problem with the Pharisees? What’s His problem with the religious culture? It’s duplicity. It’s the problem we have today. Everyone says, “I’m born again.” Everyone says, “I love Jesus.” We just don’t live that way. “Anyone who practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of God. For I tell you” – and this is the one where their jaws dropped – “I tell you unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, can you imagine hearing this sermon, and getting to that part and going, Are you kidding? I mean, these guys are squeaky clean, squeaky clean, squeaky clean.

And then, Jesus begins to make the distinction between external righteousness – activities, spiritual activities, good activities, doing the right things, however, for the wrong reason.

True righteousness is always a matter of the heart. True righteousness is always an issue of relationship, not performance.

What He was saying to them is, “Your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees, because they’ve got all the external religious activity, but their hearts” – remember what He’d say? “Your lips profess this, but your hearts are far from Me.” They weren’t poor in spirit. They didn’t see their need. They weren’t merciful. They weren’t pure in heart. They weren’t seeing God. They weren’t being persecuted; they were persecuting Him!

All the things about the character, did you notice that every single thing of those beatitudes, they were “be” not “do” attitudes? They were issues of who you are inside, who you are that only God can see, who you are when no one’s looking. What are your motives? What matters? Jesus says genuine righteousness is always a matter of the heart.

But He’s going to say, “You have heard it said,” and what He’s going to say is, “Here’s the external righteousness that you’ve been taught since you were little boys and little girls. But I say to you, behind that external thing, this is the Spirit, this is God’s heart, this is what He was always after.”

The Pharisees – each one, He’s going to, “You have heard it said” – the focus is external. Jesus will say, “No, no, the focus should be internal.” With the Pharisees, it was always about doing. Jesus will say, “No, no, no, no, it’s really about being.” The Pharisees were pounding people and making people greater sinners than themselves. It was about duty, duty, duty. Jesus said, “They missed it. It’s about devotion.” The Pharisees would say, “It’s performance. Are you doing this? Are you doing that? Are you doing this?” Jesus said, “Performance – no one can be justified by the Law. It’s about your relationship.”

On the Pharisees’ side, they manipulated and controlled people with guilt. Jesus said, “I want to introduce you to grace.” They were focused on the letter of the Law. Jesus said, “No, no, it’s not the letter; it’s the spirit of the Law. The letter kills; the Spirit gives life.”

Finally, Jesus said, “They’ve got it all in their head. I want you to know that I’m looking for the pure in heart.”

Let’s go through how He applied it. So, He starts with murder, now, remember, the context is, your righteousness – if you were listening to the sermon by Jesus – it needs to be exceeding that of the most religious, squeaky-clean, got-it-together, disciplined folks that you could ever imagine.

And so, He starts. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, I say, if anyone says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone says to his brother, ‘You fool!’ is in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, I say to you, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go be reconciled to your brother; then come and present your offering .” And then, He goes on and talks about settling matters.

The command was about: don’t commit murder. What’s behind murder? Murder is the last thing you do when you have relational conflict that’s unresolved. And where does it start? It starts with anger. It’s when I’m angry. I mean, people don’t have casually wonderful feelings and say, “Hey, I think I’ll kill you today.”

It starts with a resentment, and there’s anger or a hurt or injustice, and the anger builds, and it ends up in the action of murder. And so, Jesus says what’s behind that are some relational issues.

Relational reconciliation and human relationships are the heart of that command.

Well, He applies it to the next area, and He’s going to, instead of talking about murder, He’s going to talk about the sanctity of sex. He says, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better for you to lose one eye from your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” A hyperbole, here. He’s making a metaphor to say the gravity of what you need to do, but what’s His point?

They got to the point where, hey, did you commit adultery or not? Is it legal? I’ll tell you what, Moses gave a certificate of divorce – and at this point, there were two schools of thought. But, basically, the average guy could say, “You know what? She doesn’t look very pretty anymore. I don’t want her anymore.” A woman had zero rights, “Eh, you’re out. I’ll get a new one.”

And Jesus said, “Wait a second. It’s not just the external behavior. I’m telling you that when your loyalty moves from the fidelity of in a covenant marriage to even mentally going to another person, before God, you’ve already missed.

He goes to the next area, which is having to do with divorce. He says, “It’s been said among you that if anyone divorces his wife he must give her a certificate of divorce.

But I tell you if anyone divorces his wife, except for marital infidelity, I just created a new word, I think causes her to become an adulteress.” And, again, it’s the sanctity of the family. It’s not just the legality. It’s the covenant. It’s what you committed to. It’s the relationship.

He skips down to oaths: “Again I say, you’ve heard it said from people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths that you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, don’t swear at all: either by heaven, for that is God’s throne; or the earth, for it’s His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it’s the city of the great God. And don’t swear by your head, for you can’t make even one hair be white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Anything beyond that comes from the evil one.” Be men and women of integrity from the heart.

And then, He gets to retribution and, you know, that classic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” “But I say to you, do not resist evil person or resist if someone strikes you.” And by the way, the striking, here, on the right cheek, most people are right-handed. This is more of the offense. It’s the slapping.

And then, He says, “If someone asks you to go one mile” – the Roman soldiers, by law, could come to anyone and say, “You carry this for a mile. You carry my equipment for a mile.” And, basically, what He says is, “You know your pride and your rights, and when you get offended” – “Well, they did that to me. I’m going to do that to him.” He said, “You know something? There’s some law, how about grace? How about we show the world how different and wonderful God is? Let’s give people what they don’t deserve.”

So, a Roman soldier says, “Okay, I command you now, in the name of the emperor and the Roman government, you must carry my equipment, by law, for one mile.” And then, they had markers. “There’s a mile.” And you look up and say, “Hey, do you mind if I go one more?” And that soldier goes, “What?” He says that’s a kingdom citizen. You see the heart? You see the difference?

Then, finally, He said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you, love your enemies” and then listen to this, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

And the idea of sons, especially in Hebrew culture, it has family likeness as the idea. You’ll be like your Father in heaven. “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you” – duh! “what reward is that? Don’t tax collectors and sinners do that?”

And then now, He says, “What do you do to your enemies? You don’t give them what they deserve.” Grace is giving people something they don’t deserve. Mercy is withholding what people do deserve. And so, when your enemies do, He says, “I want you to withhold what you would normally give them, and I want you to overcome evil with good. You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you, love your enemies” and then listen to this, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

And the idea of sons, especially in Hebrew culture, it has family likeness as the idea. You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”

And do you see? I mean, He is turning the paradigm of what it means to be an authentic follower of Yahweh completely upside down. This is a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, because this righteousness is a matter of the heart. This righteousness requires supernatural help.

Jesus was the most winsome human being on the face of the earth, and His life of love and grace and mercy and truth and strength and courage caused prostitutes and sinners and people to be drawn to Him, like bees to honey, and it caused people who genuinely wanted to know God to see the Father as He really is, and it caused people who were religious and self-righteous and controlling to want to kill Him.

And sometimes I ask myself, If I lived in that day, I wonder which one of those groups I would be in? I tend to read the New Testament like I’m always one of the disciples. Try reading it sometime like you’re one of the Pharisees. My righteousness, your righteousness, must exceed that.

And so, here’s the summary: Jesus condemns external righteousness, spiritual activities, when it does not flow from internal relationship with God. True spirituality is always an issue of the heart. God’s love is never dependent upon your performance. If there’s one thing, if we could be set free, God’s love is not dependent on your performance.

There’s this unconscious, Oh, I feel okay and I’m doing okay, and God loves me, when I perform, perform, perform, and when I don’t.

Now, we’re going to learn in a second our spiritual activities. You’re thinking, Wait a minute, Chip. You just told us – man, you’re giving all these sessions about how important it is and to be disciplined and all this, and now, you’re just messing with my mind, Ingram.

No, no, no. Jesus is. Okay? Everything we’ve talked about so far is absolutely true, absolutely of a necessity. But it’s the difference between doing those things to walk into the house and meet with the person, than to get focused on the driveway. It’s those spiritual activities.

And just a quick FYI, in case it never got clear, because I lived in America, and I went to church, though it be not a good one, I never heard it. So, just let me take two minutes, before we go on. I want to explain, the good news of the gospel is this: God loves you, and there’s no way, no effort, no good work, no means you can ever have to earn His favor, and there is no boulder between you. It’s a chasm that’s impossible to cross.

From the eternity past, in the mind of the Triune God, they predetermined that the Son of God would come to the earth and take on human flesh, being fully Man and fully God. Fully Man, He would have the ability to die. Fully God, He would live a perfect life, and His sacrifice would have infinite value.

And after revealing, by His life and His words and His teaching, the very character of God – truth and grace – it was preordained, from the foundation of the world, that the Son of God would be unjustly accused of many crimes, and He would hang upon a cross. And He would hang upon the cross, not for one single thing that He did, but for the sins of all men, for all time. And as He hung upon that cross, He would be the offering for you and for me, and all the sins of all people of all time would be absorbed by Him. He would become sin, a sin offering on our behalf.

And, because God is holy and God is just, He would, because He can’t see sin, for the first time – and this was the agony – He would take His just wrath and pour it on the Son of God, so there would be separation. And Jesus would receive that, and why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” because in that window and moment of time, for the first time in all eternity, your sin and my sin was paid for, completely, by Him.

And He gave His life, and He now offers a gift to every human being on the face of the earth, that is free, for by grace you’re saved through faith. That’s not of yourself; it’s a gift of God, not of works, least any man should boast. And then, three days later, not by a dream, not by a prophet, not by a religion, not by something in the sky, He would rise from the dead, and for over forty days have personal interaction with five hundred eyewitnesses documented. And just to throw a little icing on the cake, God had a number of other people be raised from the dead, and they went around and talked about what was happening. In space/time history.

And the offer and the message of Christianity is not be a nice person, go to church, clean up your morals, and be a little bit kinder and nicer than other people. The message is we are lost in our sin; we’re separated eternally from God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me,” Jesus would say, and He makes an offer to you and to every single person: “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Eternal life isn’t something that happens after you die. It is a quality of life where the chasm is closed; your sin is atoned, or covered, for. You are taken out of this kingdom of darkness, ripped out of it, by faith, through His grace, planted in the kingdom of His beloved Son, in the kingdom of light. The Spirit of God enters your physical body. You’re sealed with the Spirit, He deposited spiritual gifts in you, and His purposes now, is Christ lives His life out through you. That’s the gospel, the righteousness of Christ. And living the Christian life is not hard, and it’s not about trying hard. It’s impossible.

When Paul explains it in the book of Romans, he will tell us the first three chapters is the problem. Chapters 4 and 5 is the solution. Then chapters 6, 7, and 8 are how the supernatural righteousness is achieved. It’s achieved, first, by reckoning that you died with Him; you rose to walk in newness of life, that there’s a battle of the flesh and the spirit – chapter 7 – but, praise God, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It’s the Spirit of God that manifests the very life and presence of Jesus inside you. And He lives His life through you, before God, manifesting through your personality and your life, the righteousness and the life and the love of God.

That’s what it means to be a Christian, and that’s what Jesus came for and that’s what He was explaining. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. And so, He condemns external righteousness if it doesn’t flow from internal relationship with God. So, you got it? Good.

Now, let’s look at the second issue He addresses, because you might say, “Well, wait a second. That’s wonderful – grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace. That feels really good. But what about all those teachings we went over about spiritual activities and disciplines? Aren’t we commanded to pray? Aren’t we commanded to give? Aren’t we commanded to fast?” Yes. Jesus’ solution was not to stop spiritual activities, but to ensure that we do them out of grace and relationship, not performance and obligation.

It was that we would do them out of devotion and see them as what they are. They’re just a driveway. They’re just a conduit to get to where you really want to go. Giving, praying, fasting, media fasts, Scripture memory, accountability groups – none of that is the deal! They’re just the driveway to get you where Christ can make His home and have freedom and manifest His life in your heart.

That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3, that Christ would take up residence, that He would dwell – and the word dwell there means He would feel comfortable and be at home in you.

And by the way, the whole Christian life, in one word: abide. What do you need to abide? I don’t know. I mean, Scripture gives us some basics, but whatever you need to stay connected to Jesus, just stay connected to Jesus, and let His life flow through you. I mean, if you really want to get it simple. And what we know is that there are certain practices that help us abide. They’re not an end in themselves; they help us abide.

In chapter 5, Jesus corrects our belief, our misguided beliefs about performance orientation, self-effort, guilt manipulation, obligation, and duty. Now, in chapter 6, He’s going to correct our behavior. He’s going to teach us, well, how do we do the right thing, right? But how do we do it in the right way?

And so, I’m going to give you a quick overview here of the first part of chapter 6. And what I want you to notice here is that He’s doing here, He’s going to say, now, in our pursuit of seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness, there’s also the danger of deception.

In Matthew 6, He will give three most common practices of the Christians, the followers, the religious leaders of that day, and what He will do is He’ll show you, “Now, look, your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. Let Me show you how to use those practices that does something to your heart and your relationship, rather than tries to impress people.”

So here’s His application. Chapter 6, verse 1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you’ll have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogue 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 left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

He’s not saying here that if anyone ever finds out what you give, it’s a problem. What He’s saying is, if your motive when you give is to make sure people find out what you give, you got a problem. And He’s saying you can have a reward. Plan A: People think you’re hot stuff; God’s unimpressed. Plan B: God thinks you’re hot stuff and, in secret, wants to reward you, and people don’t know about it. You got it?

The key here is our motive. The key issue is our motive. Giving guards your devotion.

Your heart just always follows your treasure. So, if you want your motives and your devotion to stay true to God and not an idol, what did Jesus say? Well, Jesus said this wild thing. He says, “There are only really two gods: Me and mammon.”

What’s mammon? It’s materialism. And He says, you can’t serve both.

He said, “Giving is My opportunity to remind you that I own everything, and your breath is from Me. And what do you have that you don’t receive? And your heart is a very precious thing to Me, and so I’ve instituted this practice that, every time you receive some things, you take a portion of it and, actually, I’m quite generous, since it’s all Mine, and I just ask for a portion of it, not because I need it. I can do anything. But I’m asking for a portion as this reminder for you to take your little claws, because you always want to hang on to stuff, and let go, and love other people, because I’m the most generous being in all the universe. I love so much, I gave My Son. And so, I want to teach you how to love.”

And you know what? You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.

The next practice, He goes to the motive, again, the key issue in prayer: “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray” – how do they do it? – “standing in the synagogues on the street corners” – why? – “to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room” – it’s the idea of the inner room – “close the door pray to your Father, who’s seen in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” And then, it goes on and talks about when you pray and how to pray and the right way to pray, not babbling, and He gives us what’s now known as the Lord’s Prayer.

But He gives us in prayer – what? It’s, again, motive, and it guards your discernment. A lot of the issues you have are discernment issues: What should I do? I just don’t know. And you know what? No one does but God. And He has an agenda for you. And we always want someone to tell us what we ought to do and what percentage should we give, and, “Should I do this, or should I do that, or…?” You know what? God wants to tell you. He wants to tell you. But you’ve got to sit still.

And I pray in the car. I’m going to keep praying in the car. I practice the presence of God. I have quick little prayers here. I have short ones over here. But I have to stop, go into my inner room, shut off the world, sit before Him, and get clear. And, often, I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, so that it’s not just needs, or it’s not just worship; it’s, “Our Father” –it’s relationship – “who art in heaven” – holy, this is who God is – “I want Your kingdom to come, Your agenda, not mine. I’m going to ask for my needs; I’m going to deal with relational issues and forgive anybody You bring to my mind. I’m going to ask You to guard me from temptation. You know what’s coming today. Then, I want Your kingdom and Your power and Your glory.”

And so, the third area Jesus says about this internal righteousness, He talks about fasting, and we pick that up in verse 16: “When you fast, don’t look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they’re fasting. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it won’t be obvious to men that you’re fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, and He’ll reward you.”

Fasting is a motive, again, and it provides perspective. It allows you to disengage from all the stuff, and spend that time with God.

And try a day or two occasionally, so when those hunger pangs come, you know, drink a lot of water, and you say, “God, I want to be reminded. I want to be reminded that all the busyness and all the pull and all the demands,” You’re just sort of backing up. And I will tell you, as you do that, you get perspective. Your spiritual sensitivity goes up when you fast.

And, finally, the summary of this is pretty clear: Spiritual disciplines are essential. Okay? Spiritual disciplines are essential but become dangerous when they become a means to gain the reward of men, rather than deepen our relationship with God.

Isn’t it amazing the heart behind Jesus’ teaching, here? Do you need to have personal discipline? Yeah. Do you need to get your priorities right? Absolutely. Do you need to get a handle on your time and your money? Yes. Do you need to look at those six things that are misplaced priorities and say, “I need to address it”? But you need to do all that with a righteousness that’s exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

I have a final application, here. It’s that secrecy is God’s method of keeping our motives pure. And this isn’t a legalistic, “Oh, no one knows.” If someone finds out you’re doing this or that or, “Ahh! Someone found out I was fasting.” Big deal. That’s not the issue. The issue is if you have a sign: “By the way, did you know I’m spiritual, and I’m fasting today?” That’s what’s being prohibited.

Personal discipline is a very, very spiritually hazardous endeavor. The means can never be an end. God wants your heart.