Thursday, February 10, 2005

in secret

In the traditional Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6), we hear Jesus saying, three times, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you”.

So much of life is related to what we are able to measure. What adds to the bottom line? Where is the visible result? What is the tangible outcome? This measurable, material world can have an effect on the life of the spirit. How many members do you have?”, I’ll be asked at a pastor’s meeting? How many giving units?”, a stewardship consultant wants to know.

And of course, we do want to measure things, count things, number them. We do want the praise, affirmation, and, if we are honest, the applause of others. But there is a dimension to the spiritual life for a disciple of Jesus that runs counter to that. The core of the spiritual life is laid out for us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus is responding to the Pharisees, who were doing the right things but for the wrong reasons, and he is speaking to our own judgmental natures. What does that person give? Have they been coming to Bible study? Are they really committed? Who appreciates what I do? Who recognizes all that I contribute?

These are our natural questions, our human needs even, but with them Jesus is not much help. When you give, he says, let it be in secret. When you pray, go into your closet. When you fast, don’t become self-righteous about it. Your Father, who is in secret, will see.

Some things are known only to God.

We observed Ash Wednesday yesterday. We pondered our own mortality, and began the journey from death to life. I have been thinking about this phrase, “in secret”. And I have asked myself a question: what is this in opposition to? The opposite of “in secret” is out in the open, for all to see. There is a part of us that wants everyone to see our good works: what we give, how we worship, how we are committed, the difference we make.

The reward, Jesus teaches, lies elsewhere. Much of life is “in secret”. As the “Hymn of Promise” reminds me,

in the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see”.


Blogger Trevor Sharp said...

Ken, Our Tuesday morning group in Greensboro used your "in secret" as our opening devotional this week. We're a group of ten guys, several of whom you know well from your time at Christ Church. It seems that our strong tendency to "live to others' expectations" is a theme that has particular resonance with us. Two weeks ago, I happened to give a "perspectives on faith" talk during our worship service, and I described a time in my 30's (25 years ago) which I vividly remember. I was tired of all the "roles" I was playing, all the expectations of others I was trying to live up to. After a period of struggle, I came to a time when I felt like an onion whose many layers were being peeled off until I was just one person. I came to know the meaning of the New Testament words, "my yoke is easy." Compared to the expectations of others, what God asks of us is almost simple and is certainly freeing. Last week, Bob Henderson, our preacher at Westminster Presbyterian, mentioned a time in his past when he realized he had become a slave to the expectations of others. He spent some time "in secret," with God. He experienced a strong renewal and return to a God-directed life. Your message struck home for us. It is a truth that can be hard to hold onto at times, but we do not live for the applause of others, but for a much higher purpose. Trevor Sharp (

8:44 AM  
Blogger ken carter said...

Thank you, Trevor, for this comment. I think many of us come to this point along the way. It is something of a release to make peace with this. And then the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

11:18 AM  

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