Tuesday, August 08, 2006



In the last few years, God has been speaking to me about the connection between loving and serving God and loving and serving others, especially the poor.

I've learned a lot from spending time with the poor. They've taught me about humility and about courage. I've known the joy of bringing hope to someone who felt forgotten and alone. I've seen Jesus in the face of the elderly, the poor, in children who are hungry and dirty. I've discovered the truth that the Gospel is about being "Good News to the poor" as Jesus said it was.

In all my passion for serving the poor, I've hosted conferences designed to educate other Christians about the connection between how we love God and how we love the poor among us. I've written dozens of articles all over the internet and in print magazines about how God is calling each and every one of us to express His genuine compassion for the poor in our everyday life. I've taught workshops on this. I've preached sermons on this. I even have several t-shirts which loudly proclaim my passion and my concern for the poor.

But lately I've begun to learn something else about caring for the poor which goes beyond advocacy and activism. It goes beyond giving a hug or befriending the lonely. It's called "The Discipline of Secrecy".

A quick search through Richard Foster's great classic, "Celebration of Discipline" provides a few short paragraphs about this concept, but I think it's a lost art and worthy of more attention.

This little-known, or practiced, discipline is found simply in the teachings of our Lord Jesus, Himself.

In Matthew chapter 6, verses 1 through 4, Jesus urges His followers to practice an uncommon discipline of secret charity. In verse 2 of chapter 6, Jesus says, "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 men. I tell you the truth, 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." - Matt 6:1-4

Recently this passage has come to convict me of my previous attitude and behavior towards the issue of poverty and my (very public) response to it. On the one hand, my talent is to write. I've made an intentional choice to surrender my writing ability to God so that the Kingdom may be advanced and so that the Truth of the Gospel might be proclaimed. That's what I've been focusing on these last few years of my life with this website, my newsletter, and the various book projects I've got going on at the moment.

But, as I read this verse in Matthew, I begin to question my motives a bit more seriously. When I write my articles giving testimony about how God has revealed Himself to me through my service to the poor, don't I take a bit of pride in my state of enlightenment? Well...honestly, yes...maybe just a little bit. And as I wear my t-shirts which proudly shout "Actions Speak Louder" or "You Have One Life, Do Something", aren't I basically saying, "Hey! Look at me! I care about the poor and if you don't you're not as smart/holy as I am!"? Perhaps...

In my defense, I think my earlier passion to write down what I was discovering along these lines, was mostly sincere excitement and an honest desire to share with others about what I was learning. I wanted, and still want, to inspire others to get out of their comfort zones and to begin to love the poor that God has put in their path. It has made a serious difference in my life and I know it will make a serious difference in the lives of others who also decide to follow Jesus in this way.

But now I am discovering a new facet of caring for the poor; The Discipline of Secrecy.

After reading this passage in Matthew, and after having the Holy Spirit roll me around in the dirt about my attitude in this area, I decided to change my behavior and to modify my acts of compassion.

For example, in the past, I would learn something great or experience something awesome in the process of serving another person and I would immediately craft an article about it and post it online somewhere for all the world to see. Again, in my heart my hope was to inspire others to get out of their comfort zones and to express the love of God to the poor in tangible ways. That's a good thing. However, I've begun to imagine what it might be like to spend an hour of time with a homeless person, buy them a meal and pray for them, without ever saying a word about it to anyone.

At first I was curious about whether or not I could actually do this. I mean, could I really stop and spend time with someone who was in need and could I serve them and then never talk about it in public? Better yet, would I do this if I knew that no one would ever know about the details of my benevolence?

These are the hard questions that Jesus asks of us in Matthew chapter 6. This is the hard question that the Holy Spirit is asking me now. Maybe He's asking you the same thing?

Could I actually develop an ongoing ministry to the poor where every week I am actively involved in providing compassionate response to someone in need, and yet never write or talk about it to anyone?

Honestly, the idea of doing this excites me. I'm eager to start a ministry of secret charity to whomever God puts in my path. I can't imagine that such a habit could do anything less than draw me closer to the heart of Jesus and begin to change my heart for others in ways I have yet to even begin to understand.

So, does this mean I won't be writing any more about the importance of caring for the poor? Probably not. Does it mean that I'll not be leading any further conferences or workshops where I educate and train others to see the poor around them and to respond in the way that Jesus commands us? No, it does not mean that. I will continue to devote my time, talent and energy into caring for the poor and for preaching about God's heart for the poor.

But, what will change is that I will begin to develop an area of my life where I spend time with the homeless, and I care for the poor God puts in my path, and I will purposely guard the details of that service from everyone except God...and my wife.

There is joy and freedom in knowing that only you and God are aware of your acts of service to others. It clarifies whom we are trying to please and it glorifies only the One who deserves any glory.

I can hardly wait to begin on this adventure of secret service, and I wish I could report back to everyone about how it's going and what I'm sure to learn...but I can't. You'll just have to start your own secret service time and experience the joy for yourself, I guess.



K. said...


An awesome book I just read is called "Doctor Hudson's Secret Journal" by Lloyd C. Douglas. This is also the author of "The Robe". This book exemplifies exactly what you are talking about!

Great post!

Anthony said...


Nice article.

What I find is that when I do good works my motives or impulse may be completely pure but I'm always have a small tinge of hoping that someone is noticing. Pride is so insidious.

But I agree when you are having awesome things happening your life and learning great things about Christianity that you really want to share with others. Yet how to contrast that with secrecy? Such a delicate balance.