I’m not the first to say it, but Jesus is an absolute genius. I remembered this yet again in a recent conversation with a Christian leader with whom I meet regularly. We were talking about how one of the challenges for Christian leaders is ending up with a utilitarian orientation to spiritual practices.
Engaging in spiritual practices may help the soul of a leader be healthier, but that is a secondary reason for engaging them. The primary reason for any of us to engage in spiritual practices is to make open space and unhurried time to acknowledge and enjoy the presence of God with us, to listen to God’s voice and to watch for God’s grace at work.
But there can be an instinct to remain faithful to spiritual practices as a Christian leader because it’s good for my reputation. We might want to be thought of as spiritually mature. Becoming mature in soul is a wonderful thing. Worrying about whether others think of us that way is another thing altogether.
So back to Jesus as genius. The very best remedy for this other-referencing tendency we sometimes find in Christian leadership is his counsel about spiritual practices in Matthew 6. In the practice of prayer, fasting and generosity to the poor, Jesus recommends the practice of secrecy. Here’s how he says it related to praying:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
There is a way of praying that really addresses the people around us more than the God to whom we are intending to speak. We may use certain language that we hope will make us appear a better Christian somehow. This isn’t the way Jesus encourages us to pray.
Instead, we can go somewhere that no one will ever hear a word we pray. We can simply talk to the Father in secret. We can use language that we’d use talking with a friend. We can allow for moments of silent listening.
Pray to your Father in the hearing of the Father. This will be truly fruitful. As Christian leaders, we don’t announce our spiritual practices, but engage in them for their own sake. Secrecy is a practice that can help us recover the relational focus of our practices from the tendency to use practices to acquire spiritual resources or spiritual stature.