God’s Secret Service

CHAPTER 12 Rock-Solid Living In A Quicksand World
The Secret Service: Rock-Solid Rewards That Are Out of This World

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God’s Secret Service

Secret service is maximally important. Even the agency that guards our president is called the United States Secret Service. As another example, to be able to serve in our nation’s military, at the very least, a person has to be qualified to receive a “secret clearance.” Some even have what is called “top-secret” clearance. Believe it or not, there are clearances that are even higher than this. They are compartmentalized. That is to say, the information is guarded so that only sections of people (who have a top-secret clearances) can share this information on what is called a “need to-know” basis. So only certain individuals have access to the information as needed. Other people with top-secret clearance do not have access.

To Top Secret Servants
Three/Four Secretive Spiritual Practices

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Nicodemus and Joseph

In the New Testament, there were two very important men who were in the secret service. One of them was specifically called a disciple of Jesus, “but secretly.” (See John 19:38.) He was a wealthy man, and few people knew that he was a follower of Jesus; however, when push came to shove— and everyone else was in hiding—Joseph of Arimathea came out of hiding to claim the body of Jesus for burial. Another stood with him. Do you know who he was? It was Nicodemus. Continue reading the Joseph of Arimathea passage, and you will see that Nicodemus also came out of the shadows. Both of these “secret-service disciples” put their lives on the line when it counted.

There are three spiritual-practice stepping-stones to which Jesus insists that we apply the principle of secrecy. The consequences of being—or not being—secretive are absolutely eternal. Jesus also adds some other pebbles with each of these, as we look forward to acquiring a solid footing in service to our God. These stepping-stones are related to giving, praying, and fasting.

Secret Giving
Matthew 6:1–4

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Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will 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 synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, 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.

Jesus calls giving one of the “acts of righteousness.” Or, if you choose to use my phrase, “acts of rightwayness.” In other words, there is indeed a right way to give, and a wrong way to give. There is giving that is only good for this life, and there is giving that has that sending-it-on-ahead eternal quality. The wrong way is to give but to let people know you are giving. Is it important that others know what you are giving? In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that if you want the reward of getting pats on the back and public acclaim from peers or superiors, then the eternal rewards will not be coming your way. I think His exact words are if you do, “you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

This was a problem during the time Jesus walked this earth. Many times, when well-heeled Pharisees or Sadducees or other leaders donated in the synagogue, there would actually be an announcement of who gave and what they gave. Or it might even be announced on the street what they had given. These religious leaders were well pleased with themselves as they heard their names publicly mentioned with regard to the good they did. Jesus spoke the truth to them about their hypocrisy. He made it clear that if they simply wanted men and women to think well of them, then they had their reward on this side of heaven, period. They may have been well pleased with themselves, but they were actually establishing a quicksand foundation for eternity where the Almighty God was not pleased with them at all.

When Jesus talks about secret giving, He may even be speaking a little bit about the compartmentalization that I mentioned earlier. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In other words, compartmentalize it. Only God needs to know what you give. And if God knows what you do in secret—your “secret service”—He will indeed reward you openly. Now this is solid giving.

Since this is the teaching that Jesus provides regarding giving, it seems to me that when the church needs funds for various ministry projects, and we give praise and adulation to key people, we are seriously missing the mark. We are not only doing just the opposite of what Jesus taught , we are actually encouraging people to give in a way that robs them of the blessing of the heavenly reward that our Heavenly Father wants to give them. When we allow folks the opportunity to give secretly to Jesus, we set them up for a blessing that can only be received on the other side in heaven. This is rock-solid giving and the benefits of giving like this are out of this world.

By the way, did you notice the name Jesus placed on those who wanted to be seen by “man” and rewarded by the same? He called them hypocrites. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in that crowd at all. You may remember from earlier in this book that these were people about whom He said, “I never knew you.” Jesus wants us to know Him. He wants us to receive all the heavenly rewards He has prepared for the good folks of planet earth.

Matthew 6:5–14 A Paraphrase

SECRET PRAYING

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 others. Truly I tell you, 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 in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today 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 the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Amen.” For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

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BE IMPRESSED PLEASE

If you continue to think about this passage regarding the difference in rock-solid praying and praying that the Almighty will likely not consider, you will notice a pattern is developing in Jesus’s teaching; for example, Jesus clearly targets the religious leaders of His day in the fifth verse. You will also see that He makes it very clear what they are doing. They are making themselves look good and stand out, and they are doing their best to have people say, “Wow! Now that person can really pray! Just listen to how the words flow off of the lips!” Yep! They want folks to be impressed with their obvious spirituality. “Please pat me on the back for my holiness” is what they imply by their actions.

However, when Jesus eternal view is applied, their prayers are traps or spiritual quicksand. The only ones who actually hear their prayers are those within earshot of those prayers. The only reward or answer for their prayers will be the ones they receive when others comment on them, but God is not going to answer that prayer in any manner that resembles their request. The “full reward” of their public prayers is the praise of “man.” I do not think I would like to ask a person like this to pray for me.

THE FIVE S’S OF ROCK-SOLID SECRET PRAYING

Before we go any further, I want to share something I call the five Ss—based on Jesus’s teaching on praying. These principles can guide us in developing a Christ-centered spirituality regarding prayer. The first S is a foundational principle for most of the spiritual practices that Jesus teaches. This is secret praying. We have discussed this practice fairly thoroughly; however, here in this segment of Jesus’s teaching, He adds an exclamatory vignette. Jesus really wants to drive this point home when He tells us to do the opposite of flamboyant public praying. He tells us to simply get by ourselves and go find a private place to be alone with God, and then pray. Guess what? This private place is where God will provide us with a divine intersection, and He will reward that private prayer time.

The next S represents short. If you look at the seventh verse, you will see that Jesus uses the word “babblers.” He tells us not to be like the pagans who think they’re going to be heard because of their many words. He then instructs us to avoid being like them because God already knows what we need. He then gives us the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Still others call this the “Model Prayer.” Whatever you want to call it, this is a prayer that people have prayed for centuries. And this is the prayer to which Jesus points when He says, “This is how you should pray.” I counted the words in this particular prayer. If I counted correctly, there are sixty-four words. That’s pretty short. Yet in this prayer, Jesus teaches us some powerful principles of spiritually effective praying.

1. He teaches us how to pray to our Father in heaven.

2. He teaches us how to show reverence for God’s name.

3. He teaches us to pray about kingdom principles.

4. He teaches us to surrender to God’s will in prayer.

5. He shows us that God cares about our daily needs.

6. He emphasizes the need to ask for forgiveness.

7. He emphasizes that we should be forgiving, at the same time.

8. He highlights the need to seek God’s help when we are facing temptation.

9. Then He acknowledges that we definitely need God’s help in defeating the evil one.

10. The later manuscripts emphasize the importance of adoration and praise. It’s all about God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God receiving the glory.

Needless to say, we would do well to keep our prayers secret and to keep them short.

Simple Praying

The third S stands for simple. The best example of simplicity, of course, is the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gives us another example when He tells the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a religious leader. In the story, he had already violated the first two directives. And now he violated the third. Meanwhile, there was another fellow who was not a religious leader. In fact, he was a person who would have been labeled a sinner in his own day. He was a tax collector. Here’s the story as it is recorded in the scripture. Let’s examine Luke 18:9–14.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people— robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Let me ask a question regarding these two gentlemen. Whose prayer did God hear? You have seen how the religious leader acted, and you can see that he was a legend in his own mind. You can also see that his prayer started out as a prayer of thanksgiving. But it was not really simple. Clearly, the tax man was deeply convicted about something, and his heart was anguished. Yet he was not the kind of man people admired. Jesus answers my question for you. The tax man is the one who Jesus points to as justified before God. So he was the one whose prayer God honored. Why? Well, partly, it was honored because he was praying secretly. He was not doing it for a show. He was praying in the closet of his heart. His prayer also fits the second S (short). It was only a seven-word prayer, and it certainly was simple (our third S).

Sincere Praying

Our fourth S stands for sincere. The tax collector also met this fourth guideline. The religious leader was being more self-righteous than sincere, and he was looking down on folks, especially that tax man. However, the tax man was about as sincere as a person seeking God could be. He would not even look up to heaven. He was beating on his chest. I have a hunch he was also weeping as he silently cried out his heart’s desire to God. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Specific Praying

Our last S stands for specific. Jesus taught that solid praying needs to be specific. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are specific. The seven words this man cried out to God are specific. Jesus’s longest recorded prayer in John 17 meets all the criteria of the five Ss—including being specific. Even when Jesus was on the cross—traumatized by the events of the day—He was specific when He cried out to God the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”

If you want a prayer of eternal quality, follow the directives of Jesus’s five Ss. If you want God to actually hear your prayers in a way that God will answer, use these directives for rock-solid praying in a quicksand world. Let each letter represent S-shaped pavers to a heavenly connection so that God will make holy corrections. Keep the prayers secret, short, simple, sincere, and specific.

Now if you want to waste a whole lot of time, try making your public praying a means of impressing people with your words. Go ahead and put those beautiful words in your head out there, and let them flow. Just say a bunch of nonspecific words that are poetically strung together, and complicate that prayer with as many descriptive and eloquent words as you can express. Pray as long as you like. Keep that sincerity at a minimum, especially if you can drum up a bit of emotion to sound more convincing. And—as I said—if you do this, you are wasting everyone’s time.

Let’s be clear. You will have your sad reward, and a lot of people may have heard you; however, God will not answer because you will have already experienced your weed filled harvest. You will have reaped what you have sown in quicksand.
Why not establish a rock-solid prayer life? God would rather you keep it secret, short, simple, sincere, and specific, and God will answer in positive ways that you can only imagine when you pray this way. Amen!

Secret Fasting
Matthew 6:16–18
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

As I read this, I am amazed at the consistency of our Lord Jesus; yet at the same time, this cohesiveness is a demonstration of the power of the truth that is being told. I am also amazed at the conformity of the religious leaders who had it all wrong. They kept doing the same dysfunctional thing over and over again, and they still got the same dysfunctional result. Sadly, even today there are those who fall right in line with the shaky living of these religious leaders, even though Jesus taught us a better way. Jesus gave each one of us the truth to set us free, and it is up to us to take hold of this truth, if we want to have a life that will weather all the storms that are thrown at us.

The indissolubility of Jesus’s life-changing teaching is also seen here regarding fasting. And He seems to again take aim at the religious leaders who were all show and no go. Apparently, they were people who just looked so sad when they fasted. It’s almost as if they were wanting to say without using words, “Look at me! I am having a rough time, because I am being so spiritual. Look at me to see that I am fasting. Can’t you see how holy I am?”

Jesus makes it clear that there is no eternal value in fasting for show. Look at those words of His popping up again. “Truly I tell you, they have their reward.” Now I know fasting can be challenging. It can be downright difficult; however, I also know that it would not be worth it to go through all of the discomfort of fasting just to get folks to talk about my spirituality. If someone goes on a lengthy fast just to let the whole world know how spiritual they are is insane. The only reward that person gets is a reward here on earth. Given the times in which we live, some folks might even think people are crazy for fasting in the first place. Wow! That’s a real winner of a reward!

Here is Jesus’s directive: Don’t be so obvious. Does that remind you of anything? He is saying, “Keep it a secret.” He does not want us to try to look holy; He wants us to be holy. The principle He followed when He walked on this earth holds true today, because the principle is eternal and provides eternal rewards. Whatever the Heavenly Father sees us accomplish in private as a means of seeking Him and His power, that secret action is the one He is going to acknowledge. That secret fast is going to get His attention, and it is going to get His response. So for rock-solid giving, praying, or fasting in this world—which can throw a storm at us in any given time—keep it secret, saint.

The Secret Power of Forgiving

Matthew 6:14

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
—Jesus

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Tucked away in the middle of Jesus’s secret-service foundational principles is a potent step on the Christ follower’s journey. A lot of secret stuff goes on inside of us when we forgive, and Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiving other people when they sin against you and me. For example, He mentions this principle in the Lord’s Prayer when He directs us to pray for forgiveness on the basis of the way we forgive others. He really makes the point by repeating the reciprocal factor of mercy. Praying in this way is like asking, “Lord, please forgive me, and, by the way, I want my forgiveness to be based on the way I forgive others.” Jesus adds that, when we do this, the Heavenly Father will likewise forgive us. Saying the opposite would be more poignant. “Lord, if I don’t forgive others, then don’t forgive me.” Then God could respond, “OK…I won’t.” Indeed, whether or not we forgive has a powerful impact on our spiritual well-being and on our entire lives.

This is a bit disconcerting for me. In fact, when I say this prayer privately, it goes something like the following: “Forgive me, Lord. And give me grace to forgive myself and others exactly the way you want me to forgive.” That sounds weird, I know; however, when I was younger, nursing a grudge felt good for a while. In the long run, though, it was detrimental to me more than to the other person, which is the precise point I am trying to make. The one who is hurt most by unforgiveness is the one refusing to forgive. Jesus even makes it clearer when He says that the one who refuses to forgive will be turned over to torment. (See Matthew 18:34.) Some of the most miserable people I know keep a long list of anger regarding others’ sins against them.

Laying Bricks

A practical way of thinking about this concept is to imagine each little bit of unforgiveness as being a brick. Imagine the first brick of anger I lay is that a person spoke ill of me—or at least that is the way I understood the comment. Perhaps the person had not intended harm, but I took it that way, and I did not like it. I take that brick, and I put it in an empty sack that I carry along with me. Next, I am angry because someone owes me money, and that person has not paid me back. So I put that brick in the sack, and I go on my way. Imagine another person bullied me as a child, and—even though I am grown—I just did not want to let my feelings of anger go. So I put that anger brick in the sack, and again I go on along my way. Suppose someone hurt my sister or my child or both. Well, I can put those two bricks in the sack. Imagine that, every so often, I peek into the sack, and—as the phrase goes—my blood begins to boil. I put the “boiling blood” brick in the sack, because I now feel even worse. Remembering what people did only added to the baggage. You can see that the sack that I am carrying is going to get so heavy that it can make me sick as I drag it along my way. Some people actually do have so much bitterness built up inside that it has impacted their health.

What about all those folks that I am not forgiving? Well… what about them? They are going along their way, and they don’t even think about me. They are living their lives, and they are loving their friends and families. Their sack is still empty, and they may have forgotten about their painful encounter with me. Or they may not remember ever having hurt me. They are living rent free in my head. And if I realize this, just hand me another brick. “What about me?” you ask. Well examine yourself by asking, “Do I ever have a hard time forgiving myself?” I would say that this is one of the most difficult things for people, and it can suck you down into the quicksand of unforgiveness. Why is this so? Many people don’t know how to forgive themselves and may not know how to be merciful to themselves. You can become so used to carrying bricks that it’s easy to be mad at yourself and just put a few more bricks in the sack. Some people have so many bricks of this kind that they even experience self-hatred.

Who is suffering in this scenario? Who is burdened with anger, anxiety, and pain? Who is letting his or her blood pressure rise? Who is causing his or her head to hurt? Who is suffering from chronic back pain? Who is overwhelmed? Who is tormented? I will tell you that it probably isn’t those people who we hold a grudge against. If I am being unforgiving, the one who is suffering is me, myself, and I—and the same holds true for you. We are self-inflicting wounds, and if we will follow Jesus’s directives, our loads will be lighter and our lives will be brighter.

Please let go of wounding yourself. Please lighten your load. Try asking God to give you grace to let go. Ask God to give you the ability to forgive yourself. If you can forgive yourself, then ask God for the wonderful, transforming life experience of empowering you to forgive in the exact way you want to be forgiven. Go ahead; ask Him to help you to judge the way you want to be judged. Get off the throne of condemnation because that seat is way too big for you. Let God free you to reap what you sow when you forgive so as to be forgiven. This may be a principle tucked away in the journey, but  it is a rock-solid principle to help you avoid the quicksand of unforgiveness. One of the best-kept secrets of secret service to the Lord is the healing power of forgiveness.

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