Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others … And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others … And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting … So not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal.
-Various passages from Matthew 6
This week we are celebrating the beginning of the season of Lent, a time that has traditionally focused on giving, praying and fasting. This scripture reading is commonly used during this period in the church calendar. In our scripture reading, we are presented with three religious practices that all good Jewish folks willingly participated in during the first century. Giving donations to the temple, praying, and fasting were all things that faithful followers of God regularly practiced.
This passage is not encouraging believers to give, pray or fast, rather this passage encourages believers to have the right state of mind when they give, pray, and fast. The passage is structured with a repeated pattern to help the early listeners understand how important one’s state of mind is when it comes to religious practices. This passage first instructs first century hearers how not to give, pray and fast. They are not to do it in a way that brings them any personal glory or recognition. Rather, they are instructed to have the correct approach or correct state of mind. If giving, praying, or fasting is done for any other reason than to acknowledge and worship God, the discipline renders itself as useless.
So how should we approach the practice of reading our Bibles during Lent? This year we are encouraging everyone to pick up a Lenten booklet and start reading the book of John beginning Monday, February 22. There is a reading schedule in the Lenten booklet to guide you. Is there a right way to read the Bible? Honestly, no. Just read. Is there a right state of mind to read scripture? Yes, there is. Begin your reading by taking time to pray first, asking God to speak to you through His Word. Prayer opens us up to hearing the whisper of God as we read. Prayer reminds us of our need for God’s inspiration. It is easy to make reading the Bible a task that we simply check off. Prayer will help us slow down and receive the gift of God’s Word and have the right state of mind as we read. I hope you will join us as we read the book of John together this Lenten season.