Generosity, prayer, and fasting focus our motivations and actions on God’s will and His kingdom.
The other day I made a salad. Before I ate it, I had a “Millennial moment” and grabbed my camera, but I wasn’t happy with the picture. So, I started arranging things. I picked a little bit of shredded carrot off the cucumbers. Then, I stacked those in a neat little staircase. I arranged the purple onions on the other side of the cucumbers. I turned over the egg-slices so that the bright, yellow yolks popped. The croutons piled up right in the middle and I added some coarse, black pepper for contrast. I got a great picture, then I stirred it all together and ate it.
I had compound motivations. It wasn’t enough for me just to have good food to eat. I wanted it to be seen by other people. It’s like that for all of us for many of the things we do. Many of my prayers are not prayers for their own sake, but prayers prompted by discomfort and frustration. At my worst, I want to parley with God; I offer Him the prayer and hope He gives me what I want. My giving is the same way. At best, I just like the good feeling I have when I help somebody. My motivations, on their own, often do not line up with God’s will. Instead, I feel like I give something up—my time, money, a meal—because I live as though that’s how you bank spiritual points.
Jesus teaches how I am wrong about this. Imagine a simple, pure pleasure. Sitting in a gentle breeze watching the sunset, a cold glass of water on a hot day—the things you don’t need any reason to do, but for the sheer satisfaction they offer within themselves. Suppose watching that sunset cost you the chance to pour over spreadsheets in a stuffy basement office. Is that really a cost? Would you ever think that not drinking that glass of water cost you the chance to be sweaty and grimy in the sun?
Peter, James, and John decided that prayer in the garden would cost them some sleep. I have no doubt they looked back with remorse at the missed opportunity to pray with their Savior in His agony. As he watched the crucifixion the next day with Jesus’s mother, I can’t imagine John thinking, At least I caught that nap last night.
It is our own sin that tells us there is too great a cost, that the gift of God Himself isn’t enough. These acts of following Jesus—prayer, fasting, generosity—are means of worship. And worshiping God is its own reward. Our Father, “who sees in secret will reward [us].”