Three Vital Precepts
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed three vital precepts—three responsibilities—that apply to every believer: giving, praying, and fasting. He began by talking about giving offerings:
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1–4)
Note that Jesus did not say, “If you do a charitable deed…” but “When you do a charitable deed….” By this statement, Jesus showed that charitable deeds, or acts of giving in various forms, are a normal part of a believer’s life, and He explained how that giving should be conducted. Next, Jesus took up the topic of prayer:
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5–8)
After explaining how not to pray, Jesus immediately taught the correct way of praying. He gave His disciples a model to follow, which we call the Lord’s Prayer. (See verses 9–13.) Again, we see that Jesus didn’t say, “If you pray…” but “When you pray….” He considered prayer to be something every believer would engage in.
Lastly, we see the same pattern in Jesus’s instructions about fasting:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16–18)
Once more, Jesus didn’t say, “If you fast…” but “When you fast….” Some people think they need to wait for a sign from God or a special feeling before undertaking a fast. Although it’s true that God will lead us to enter into sovereign fasts, we can take the initiative to fast at any time. We can make a decision to fast by faith. And as the above teachings from Scripture demonstrate, fasting should be integrated into a believer’s regular lifestyle.
Jesus revealed three responsibilities that apply to every believer: giving, praying, and fasting.
Fasting, therefore, is not optional but is expected of Jesus’s followers. It is an act of obedience, as well as an excellent means of growing in our relationship with the Father, gaining spiritual strength, and bearing fruit for God.
Motives and Rewards
Jesus exhorted us to examine our motives when participating in either giving, praying, or fasting. To determine if our intentions are pure before the Lord, we need to ask ourselves questions such as these:
- “Which do I want more—applause and rewards from other people or favor and rewards from God?” If we are constantly looking for praise from other people, we will be offended when we fail to obtain from them what we expect to receive. However, if we wait for God’s rewards, He will bless us, and we will never be disappointed.
- “What is my reason for giving offerings, praying, or fasting?”
- “Do I always want my work for God to be publicly acknowledged by the pastor or other leaders of my church?”
- “Does it bother me when the amount of money I give is not appreciated or acknowledged?”
Jesus said that what we do for the Father “in secret” to honor and serve Him will be rewarded. What will be God’s reward for us when we give offerings, pray, and fast for the right reasons? We will have “treasures in heaven”:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)
We will also receive revelations of God and His Word:
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. (Matthew 6:22)
What we do for the Father “in secret” to honor and serve Him will be rewarded.
The Strength of the Threefold Cord
I like to connect these three elements of giving, praying, and fasting with the “threefold cord” mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes:
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Accordingly, as we serve the Lord, we should focus on each of the elements of this threefold cord:
- Giving is a form of honoring God. To honor means to value, esteem, respect, revere, or consider someone (or something) precious. When we honor our heavenly Father, we do not give to Him out of convenience but according to our love for Him. Honoring God and one’s parents (and others) is a sign of spiritual maturity. Honor is also a spiritual currency that is highly rewarded in the kingdom of God. What we do with the first portion, or “firstfruits,” of our income (see Proverbs 3:9) will determine what will happen to the rest of it. Will it dry up, will it be void of any spiritual significance—or will it become fruitful and multiply for the kingdom? When we honor God with our giving, He will demonstrate His power and provision in our life in a way we’ve never seen before. Remember, this is not a “payment” for seeking and honoring Him but rather a response of His love and grace through Jesus Christ.
- Prayer is communication with God. Every relationship is based on communication, and we should continually be in contact with our heavenly Father throughout the day. What is the first thing we communicate to Him? Our worship. Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that we are to first minister to God when we pray, honoring and praising His name, and aligning ourselves with His will: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). When you honor God with your worship and praise, you will find that your prayers are answered. If you don’t honor God at the beginning of your “Abba Father” prayer, the rest of the prayer will not be applicable to you. (See verses 11–13.)
- Fasting is presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. We will continue to discuss this theme and its implications in the next chapter.
When we honor God with our giving, He will demonstrate His power and provision in our life in a way we’ve never seen before.
A Loose Cord?
Many people wonder, “Why am I not receiving answers to my prayers?” Have you felt that way? Could it be that one (or more) of the threefold cords in your spiritual life is loose or frayed? Let us search our hearts to see if we are meeting our responsibilities to give, pray, and fast—seeking the face of God and honoring Him with our whole life. When we do what is right in God’s sight, we can defeat our “flesh,” or the sinful nature, and the devil through the power of the Spirit. I believe that as you weave together this threefold cord in service to God, you will experience breakthroughs in every area of your life!