Jesus encourages three disciplines in Matthew 6:5-18 – prayer, fasting, and giving. Other disciplines orbit around these primary directives. In each case, He warns against ostentatious displays. Each is deeply personal, quietly embraced, but rewarded by God only if offered in a sincere and humble manner. These three disciplines control all of life. They provide our foundational structure for development – lose structure, and lose the disciplines that anchor life! Again, they are not the goal. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” – that is the capstone summary of Jesus.
The three disciplines are doorways into a realm where we experience the kingdom here and now, possible only by the grace-based relationship with the King Himself. The disciplines are therapeutic regiments designed for the healing of our bent and fallen will. By them, we tether our will to God’s will. By them, our flawed natures are first graced and then transformed. God thereby offers us an incredible partnership, a covenant. That calls us to offer the gift of our free will – and that requires freeing our will from the grip of the flesh. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth” – we pray daily, beginning in my earthy vessel. Extend your kingdom, first in me and then through me.
Let’s review these three disciplines – fasting, prayer and giving.
First, prayer is the relationship to time and eternity. Prayer is timeless. It keeps working after our death. The absence of time to pray, of dedicated personal time spent with God, indicates an alarming disconnect with spiritual priorities and a life out of control. Conversely, seasons of seeking signal our desire for God. Such times necessitate solitude, coupled with passionate heavenward pleas. Scripture-based prayer is a critical component of such seeking along with meditation and the practice of waiting on God. Prayer – is the means by which I enter the tabernacle in heaven and worship. It is the means by which I stand before the heaven’s throne and make the case for the intervention of God upon the earth in behalf of lost humanity. By it, I enter heaven’s war-room and in connection with Christ, stand in some middle, acting as an intercessory agent of reconciliation. Such moments change nations. They affect outcomes. They have timeless impact. Such prayer changes things, but first, it must change me.
Fasting, which Paul enlarges to include sexual abstinence for a season (I Cor. 7:1-7), controls all things internal. It subordinates natural, fleshly desires to spiritual pursuits. It is a practical demonstration that my body is being conditioned to serve soul and spirit and not master them. It is an evident signal to heaven that my “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is more than sentiment. It is an act of surrender, a demonstration of will and obedience, the essential partner in drawing near to God in prayer. It involves a break with the world. It heightens sensitivity to the Spirit, including the capacity to “hear God.” It mandates seasons over an open Bible.
Giving is the relationship to all things external. The inability to “give” something away indicates that we don’t own the object, it owns us. Fasting demonstrates that fleshly desires are subordinated to the spirit, and the body crafted into a servant. Giving demonstrates that satisfaction is not in the trinkets of this world or things external, but in treasures laid up in heaven (Mt. 6:20). Giving demonstrates an otherworld consciousness, and a mission mindset. It is the clearest indication of love and care for others. It is a reflection of the nature of God.
Prayer moves to fasting, and fasting moves to giving. Prayer begins with God and incites us to be free of the world’s grip, to subdue the flesh and make it servant (fasting), and then to see needs and demonstrate God’s love (giving). Prayer encounters God. Fasting confronts the flesh-dominated self. Giving engages the world.
The three disciplines control all things: Prayer – time and eternity; fasting – all things internal; giving – all things external.
Spiritual disciplines are passé in this generation. The general population and the Church itself have abandoned their practice. Their loss has made us susceptible to the pride of life, the lust of the flesh and the eyes (I John 2:16). Their manifestations are an arrogant (pride), hedonistic (flesh) and materialistic (eyes) culture. Prayerful humility and dependence on God is the anti-dote to the pride of life; fasting to hedonism; and giving to materialism (eyes). Without such disciplines, we have a slothful Christianity that is prayer-less, morally compromised, self-invested and absorbed, and sadly unengaged as a harvest force. According to Barna, half of all Christians now believe pleasure and life enjoyment are the most important values. Win Arn discovered that 89 percent of Christians believe the purpose of the Church is to serve them.  Bonhoeffer demanded, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others”.
Each essential discipline compounds by building on the previous. Giving, to have impact, cannot be merely tangible. It must have spiritual substance – the giver’s life must evidence hunger for God (by fasting), which is always partnered with prayer.
This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org>
 George Barna, Vital Signs, 9.
 Hull, Revival That Transforms, 38
 Ibid, 44.