Hard to believe but I was in a church once where they read the name of the people who gave the biggest amount during the offering. Then they called a guy upfront and honored him for giving the biggest check of the night!

In Matthew 5:1-18, Jesus warns us against this perverse tendency we have to do things to be seen by others. He mentions three that deserve special attention. They are, in order, giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

Today we may not have the practice of hiring a band to show off our brand of generosity, but do you ever brag about a good deed you did? Do you ever parade your piety? Jesus says that a good deed done to be seen by others is worthy of reward, but the reward is from men, not God.

The second practice, prayer, is even more challenging for us. Daniel prayed with his window open but it was not for show, it was more for a showdown. Do people today pray to impress others? Apparently yes. I was at a conference a couple of years ago in which a guy from Scotland went around offering long and elaborate “prophetic prayers” for all kinds of people. He spoke eloquently and everyone gravitated toward him because his prayers were “powerful.” I would say the church today needs “effective” prayers more than “powerful” prayers.

I have heard stories of people who accidentally walk in the middle of a private prayer and then they go on to repeat the words the person was praying in order to highlight how spiritual that individual is. Please do me a favor: If you ever walk into one of my prayers, leave immediately and don’t ever repeat the words you heard — you might be shocked at what you might hear me say. There is a reason only a few prayers in the Bible are quoted verbatim. Prayer is primarily a private conversation between the Creator and His creature. It’s not ever supposed to be a ritual in a spiritual pageant.

Fasting is being reinvented in our culture. The old costume is being replaced with trendy alternatives. One hears of a “social media fast” or a “caffeine fast.” We’ve turned fasting into fashion and what was supposed to be a spiritual exercise has turned into a self-improvement exercise. Instead of focusing on Deity, we focus on diet, and fasting turns even the most boring dude into some urbanite hipster, especially when he posts on Facebook that he’s going on a social media fast. Jesus would probably say, “Keep Calm and Just Do It.”

With all my sardonic reflections about these practices, I still find a deep sense of joy in reading this passage, and here’s where I find it: Jesus assures us that there is a reward when we engage in these activities, that is, when we do it for God. In other words, giving to the poor, praying and fasting always come with a reward — it’s only a question of who the rewarder is. Make sure your reward is from God and not the little man displaying your check to his congregation.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA