Practical Disciplines for the Season That Leads to Easter
The journey of Lent is a journey in love. It is a journey in which we move toward the heart of God, making our home in God. Augustine once prayed, “Lord, you have made us for yourself and our souls do not find rest until they find their rest in thee.” We have longed all our lives for this perfect, eternal love which grants genuine rest—rest from our shame, our guilt, our failures and our insecurities. In Lent we embrace the Word of Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love (John 15:8).”
Of course, every day and every season is, for the Christian, a journey in love. We are invited to dwell in the love of Christ without ceasing. During Lent, however, we are particularly aware of the cost to God of God’s love for us. Lent is that season, beginning on Ash Wednesday (this year, March 6), and leading up to Easter Sunday, when the church is asked to reflect deeply on the movement of Jesus toward the cross. We think of the resistance to the son of God that arose early in his ministry: religious leaders who questioned his authority, politicians who were threatened by his power, and common people who embraced his ministry in one moment and then rejected him the next. We think of those who scoffed because he welcomed tax collectors and sinners, others who were incensed that he claimed to have authority to forgive sins and still others who hated him because they were more concerned about petty matters of the law than the big matters of mercy and justice. All that resistance worked together in the ugliest of all conspiracies, when Jesus of Nazareth, the son of the living God, the messiah, the savior of the world was crucified on Good Friday. And yet—and here we should perhaps speak in hushed tones—here, at this cross, we who believe see the love of God poured out for us. “This is my body, broken for you” says Jesus. This cross is the price at which God has redeemed us, purchased us back. Oh, the cost of the love of God!
Lent is a journey in love, a journey on which we are particularly aware of the cost to God of our redemption. But Lent is also a time for reflecting on the cost to us of this journey in love. If we are to move genuinely toward the heart of God, it will be necessary for us to let go of other ‘lovers’ to whom we have given ourselves, those false ‘gods’ who have made lavish promises that they have continually failed to keep. Have we given ourselves to greed and consumerism in our efforts to find joy? Have we embraced ungodly strategies for gaining power and control? Have we worshipped at the altar of self-absorption, self-fulfillment or self-aggrandizement? Have we taken the good gifts of creation—food and drink, sexuality and work—and fashioned them into golden calves? Humans cannot serve two masters, Jesus told us. We cannot journey to the heart of God and embrace false loves. During Lent we are asked to reflect honestly on these false loves and begin to let them go. Ouch!
If Lent is a journey in love, it must also be a journey of learning to pray for and cooperate with the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. We can never journey to the heart of God in ways that are strictly private and individual. God’s love is for all people in all places and as we move to the heart of God, we are compelled to embody that love toward others. Did Jesus proclaim the good news to all people? So must we. Did he stand for justice and righteousness? So must we. Did he serve “the least of these”? So must we. Did he run into resistance? So will we. Again, ouch!
This brings us now to the disciplines of Lent. While it should be said again that every season is a time for repentance, turning from our false loves to the love and will of God, we are especially intentional about this during Lent. Repentance is a two-step dance. With one step we move toward the heart and will of God and with the other we turn away from our false loves and attachments. Both steps are crucial. Lent therefore embraces two kinds of disciplines: those which intentionally turn to the heart of Jesus (let’s call those disciplines of engagement) and those which step away from our false loves (disciplines of relinquishment).
Disciplines of engagement are those positive practices that we take up to help us open our hearts to God and God’s love for us and the world, including such things as:
Read and reflect on Scripture and spiritual readings. I recommend, as a starting place, a slow reading through the Gospel of Mark. We are also providing devotional material that will be available at the Welcome Center and on our web page.
Create space and time for solitude and prayer. Many find that it is especially helpful to create some time first thing in the morning. However, we’re not all morning people! The important thing is, find a time that works for you and guard it carefully! Separate yourself, as much as possible, from the noise of our world and open your heart in prayer.
Develop habits of worship and praise throughout the day. Brother Lawrence, in his beautiful little book, Practicing the Presence of God, taught us that prayer and worship can follow us throughout our day, if we are intentional. Simply be intentional about creating little moments of prayer throughout each day.
Find ways to serve others without being noticed. This can be great fun. Practice ‘random acts of kindness’ incognito!
Jump-start the discipline of tithing, giving 10% of your income in ways that support God’s kingdom. The practice of tithing is a thoughtful way to confront the power and idolatry of consumerism. If 10% is really impossible, start where you can. Practice generosity!
Practice Sabbath, a day set aside for worship and rest. Ideally this would be Sunday, a day for worship, connecting with the body of Christ and connecting with friends and family. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible for all of us, so be creative about identifying a day each week for rest, renewal and relationships.
The disciplines of relinquishment are the practices of letting go of those practices, habits or attitudes that hinder us from being on the journey to the heart of God. This certainly and necessarily includes turning away from all sin “that so easily entangles,” as the writer to the Hebrews says. However, the disciplines of relinquishment can also include letting go of some good things for a season in order to put them back into proper perspective so that they may be taken up again at a later time with greater freedom. So, for example, persons might choose to:
Give up a favorite food or dessert.
Fast one or two meals or perhaps one day per week. Allow these temporary fasts to help you become more compassionate for the people of the world who suffer from malnutrition.
Take a ‘timeout’ from electronic gadgets. Try spending less time with screens and more time with people. Fast from social media and visit your neighbors instead.
Limit shopping to the more necessary things.
Discontinue or diminish the use of a substances that may be producing dependency.
Minimize noisy distractions (for example, a television that is constantly blaring).
Try a media fast. Limit the time you spend watching or listening to the news.
These ideas are intended to spark your own creativity. There is no ‘right’ way to practice the disciplines of Lent. The whole point here is that Lenten discipline should be tailored to each person’s particular needs. We embrace these disciplines for forty days (Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent) from March 6 up to Easter Sunday, April 21. Remember, the goal of Lenten discipline is to move further toward the heart of God, the heart of love. Freedom is the outcome of Lenten discipline. Take some time to thoughtfully consider your discipline during Lent. Perhaps it will help to write it out and place it where you will see it again and again. Be sure to include disciplines of engagement and relinquishment. The journey in love has begun!
-Pastor Steve Wimmer