“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6-18, ESV).
Over 150 people from our church have just finished the second week of a nine-week spiritual journey called Remove the High Places. This combines daily meditation on Scripture with prayer, worship, community, and asceticism so that we can remove places of divided loyalty in our hearts. We’re saying no to self so we can say yes to God. Some of the ascetic practices have to do with food: abstain from snacking between meals, abstain from candy and sweets, and fast for 24 hours (you can fast something besides food, but many are choosing food).
For me, the hardest challenge of week two has been food-related. I struggled all week with the temptation to get snacks and eat them in my office. Go ahead and have a snack. No one will even know. Your reputation won’t be damaged at all. It will be our little secret.
In the midst of the temptation, the Lord also spoke a thought in my mind. Do you only love me when others can see?
No. My devotion to the Lord is as true in private when no one is looking as it is on Sunday morning when I’m preaching in front of the whole congregation. Or at least, I want it to be! If I can be devoted to God in a small way (e.g., snacking) when no one is looking, then I can also be devoted to God in a big way (e.g., sexual purity) when no one is looking. I learn to wrestle with temptation and lean on the Spirit for strength in small things, like candy, so that I develop the habit of going to God in prayer over bigger things, like lying.
The point is, how we relate to God in private is critically important. If we are pious and holy only when others are around to see, our faith is false. The moments of private temptation, when only God sees, are moments that reveal our hearts. Let us practice our faith and devotion even more when alone than we do with others! Our truest self is who we are when no one is looking. May my true self be fully devoted to God this week.