Humility: The Spirit of the Disciplines

Lesson 2001
Tags: Humility; Spiritual disciplines; Spiritual growth
Excerpted from The Disciplines of the Christian Life

God has ordained that spiritual growth occur as we practice spiritual disciplines. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 refers to three such disciplines--acts of mercy, prayer, and fasting. This passage stresses that we should practice these disciplines (and, by extension, all disciplines) with humility. This is the case for at least two reasons:

We should practice the disciplines to enhance our relationship with God, not to gain the praise of our peers.

Though Christian fellowship encourages spiritual growth, and though it is appropriate to practice many of the disciplines corporately, we should never do so to gain the attention of others. Hypocrites give “before men, to be seen of them” (v. 1); they pray “that they may be seen of men” (v. 5); and they fast so “that they may appear unto men to fast” (v. 16). In so doing they exchange divine rewards for earthly ones.

We should note that it is not the public practice of the disciplines that is the problem. Rather, it is the intent to impress others--seeking the “glory of men” (v. 2)--that gets in the way of spiritual benefit. As a consequence, we should do right discreetly (vv. 3, 6, 17-18). If we do so, God will see to it that we are rewarded publicly and the glory will go to Him.

We should acknowledge that growth is a gift from God, not the product of our efforts.

The fact that we have practiced spiritual disciplines does not entitle us to take credit for spiritual growth. The disciplines prepare our hearts and minds for God to work in them. They reflect the extent to which we long for God’s will to be done in our lives.

According to Matthew 6, we should focus on God as we practice the disciplines, trusting in Him to give the reward (misthos: reward--the fruit naturally resulting from toils and endeavors). We should seek to deepen our relationship with God and allow Him to determine the outcome in our lives. We should aim to fulfill the high calling of loving Him with heart, soul, mind, and strength, all the while recognizing that it is His prerogative to make us shine with His character.