Have you ever practiced the discipline of secrecy? You may not have thought of this as a discipline.
The discipline of secrecy, as Jesus taught and modeled it, is intentionally hiding your prayers or good deeds to please only your Father in heaven, “who is in secret”; it’s the practice of denying ourselves the attention and admiration from others that we like and instead to keep our righteousness quiet (Matthew 5:15, 6:1).
Jesus Practiced Secrecy
Repeatedly Jesus went away by himself to “lonely places” to pray to the Father in secret (Luke 5:16).
When Jesus entered towns he often tried to keep it a secret that he was there, but of course he couldn’t (Mark 7:24). In town after town the crowds swelled around him and he taught them and ministered to them but then he withdrew and went on to another town.
When Jesus healed people he often told them to keep it a secret (Mark 1:44).
He called himself “the Son of Man,” which although it was a Messianic term was a lot more humble then trumpeting that he was “the Son of God.” Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was indeed the Son of God but then Jesus told him not to tell anyone yet. And also after his transfiguration he told the disciples not to tell anyone about seeing his glory.
Jesus showed people his divinity in personal, transformational ways and let them come to their own realization that he was God incarnate, come to be their Lord and Savior.
The Pharisees Drew Attention to Themselves
Jesus’ way of secrecy was a startling contrast to the way of most of the religious leaders of his day: they wore flowing garish garments; had trumpets blown to announce their coming; boasted of their pedigree and achievements; insisted on being called “Rabbi;” prayed long, loud, flowery prayers before admiring crowds; gave their tithes and offerings publicly to be recognized; and took the seats of honor at events.
Similarly, for us today our culture’s way of self-promotion is so inbred in us that we normally don’t even notice it or think of it as taking the focus off of Jesus when we advertise ourselves.
Jesus’ Teaching on Secrecy
But Jesus taught us to follow his example of humility: to pray to their Father in secret, to do our good works quietly, to seek God’s praise and not people’s, and to put aside all selfish ambition (Matthew 6:1-18).
This is not to say that he wanted us always to hide the glory he bestowed on us any more than he hid his own. He also told us “you are the light of the world” and he instructed us to “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). We let our light shine, allowing other people to see devotion to God or charitable works, as an expression love for others and to glorify God.
But when we keep our light secret it’s for personal soul training to help us grow in humility and dependence upon God alone. This helps us live in such a way that when we let our light shine we know it’s the light of Christ we’re shining and we use it only to draw people’s attention to him (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Why Practice Secrecy?
Secrecy is a discipline of abstinence or self-denial. Denying ourselves attention and praise is a powerful practice for soul transformation. It’s way to help us get free of people-pleasing and managing of what people think of us. It make space for a deeper engagement of love and dependence upon God.
In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard explains how to practice dwelling in “the secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1, NKJV), to be “secretly in a pavilion” of God’s presence that is “free from the strife of tongues” (Psalm 31:20, NKJV).
In the discipline of secrecy… we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We may even take steps to prevent them from being known… We learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misunderstanding without the loss of our peace, joy, or purpose… We allow [God] to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed… And that love and humility encourages us to see our associates in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do better and appear better than us (p. 172-3).
Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus provides an unforgettable example of implementing Jesus’ way of secrecy.
Nouwen left behind 20 years of teaching seminary at Nortre Dame, Yale, and Harvard to live with mentally handicapped people at Daybreak, a L’Arche community. They cared nothing about his religious achievements and intellect. For over a decade he become a part of their community and cared for these societal cast offs by listening, giving hugs, telling stories, and just being with them.