Today marks the first day of the season of Lent. A somewhat confusing 4 letter word, so let’s start with a little background info:
What is Lent?
The 40 days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, resisting Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). In these next 40 days we are committing to be with our Lord, to repent, to reflect, to fast, and prepare for the death and resurrection of our Savior (what we celebrate at Easter).
What is Ash Wednesday?
Today is a day where we repent of our sins, and return to our loving God. The resolutions and promises we make are all with the aim of becoming more like Christ (not to impress other people, or a “holy diet”). Lent is not about self improvement. Lent is about salvation through self denial.
If you go to an Ash Wednesday service today, you will likely receive the sign of the cross on your forehead, made of ashes. Throughout history, ashes have been a sign of mortality and repentance. So we receive these ashes on our foreheads, saying we are sinners and asking for forgiveness.
Many people choose to “give something up for Lent” such as sweets, coffee, TV, sugary drinks, facebook, or something along those lines. We can eliminate these things from our lives to simplify, and shift our attention and time towards Christ. What is distracting you from God? Consider eliminating some activity, such as: worrying, reality TV, spending lots of time in front of the mirror and so on, and instead enjoy God’s creation. However, it can be easier to “give something up” than to fully accept what Christ has given US, true grace, and freedom! God desires transformation in our lives, so we can be freer with God, freer in how we live our lives, and freer in how we love others. Lent isn’t simply about exercising willpower for 40 days, and then returning to life as it has been. So instead of just giving something up (and then daydreaming about chocolate, complaining about how you want to watch TV, and suffering through caffeine headaches, all the while forgetting why we would ever make this small sacrifice), let me ask… “What in us is God stirring in our hearts and inviting us to change?”
Maybe instead of asking “what should I give up,” we could ask, “what should I add?” More patience? More time with family? Being intentional in friendships? Reading the Bible as a community? Praying for our city and world? Seeking the Face of God? Listening to the Holy Spirit? Tutoring children? Collecting canned food? Working to see justice? Helping a stranger? Serving others? In all of these things, I pray we seek to love and serve others, and in doing so, loving & serving God.
Praying does not simply mean sitting or kneeling alone and in silence, talking to God. Pray in groups. Pray with your family. Pray with friends. Text a prayer to a friend. Pray while you walk, create art, listen to music, make music, brush your teeth…the possibilities are endless! I have never been very good at “having quiet time with God.” I just have a hard time sitting, or relaxing. My husband recently pointed out that I need to learn how to sit and do nothing. And in those moments “doing nothing” is when we can enter the presence of God. While I am sure still working on the ability to “sit and listen,” I have found that I LOVE to pray when I run. I’m out in nature, with nothing else to do BUT pray and listen to Jesus. It’s my soul time. And, consequently, is good for my body, and clears my mind. God cannot be confined, explained, or reasoned, so why limit how we can interact with our Creator?
Ten Things to Try During Lent:
10. Try an electronic fast. TV, videogames, texting, tweeting, facebook, all electronics once a week (or for all of Lent). Instead, spend those moments praying & worshipping Jesus.
9. Start a prayer rhythm. Pray every time you shower, hear an ambulance, pray for someone before you text them.
8. Read one chapter in the Bible each day. (Matthew? Psalms?)
7. Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it (maybe even yourself).
6. Give up soda, fast food, or coffee. Give the money to World Vision or some other organization that helps our brothers and sisters around the world.
5. Create a daily quiet time. Spend 30 (or 5) minutes a day in silence or prayer (while sitting, or walking).
4. Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a note each week thanking them for how they have influenced your life.
3. Be kind to someone each day. Especially the irritating, weird, and rude people.
2. Pray for others you see as you walk to and from class, drive to and from work, or go grocery shopping.
1. Volunteer for an hour or more each week at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Unity Shoppe, Habitat for Humanity, tutoring, or serving our community.
I pray you will join in with our community during this season of Lent as we seek the Lord together, so that we all may “repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32b)
Blessings & Love!
Sources: Bible, Henri Nouwen, UMC, Creighton, upperroom.org, & Telford Work.