Lent is often a time when people engage in spiritual practices such as giving something up (like chocolate or alcohol) or adding something (like extra devotional readings or prayers). Such practices can be helpful, but they are not the focus of Lent. Neither are they restricted to those who consider themselves especially pious or faithful.
Lent is a time to reflect critically and prayerfully on the human condition, particularly our own lived realities and the consequences–spiritual and worldly–of our choices. It’s also a time to reflect and consider the possibilities offered to us by new life in Jesus Christ. This period of reflection is appropriate for committed and active Christians, who constantly must reassess and renew their faith in order to prevent it from becoming mere habit or empty piety. This period of reflection is appropriate for those who are new to Christianity, and would benefit from a time of deep spiritual reflection on why Christ is needed, how his grace can radically change the world, and how we can participate in that change. This period of reflection is appropriate for Christians who have fallen or even purposefully walked away from the faith, who have been reminded of God’s faithful presence in their lives and are considering a return. In other words, Lent is an invitation to all Christians–wherever you are on your faith journey–to grow closer to God and remember the promises he fulfills in Christ Jesus.
What is the purpose of a Lenten discipline?
“The fuller Lenten discipline is a self-examination that seeks greater conformity to the mind of Christ, and more effective ministry on behalf of the world (which is what true devotion is all about.) In this perspective, Lenten disciplines are not temporary deletions or additions but spiritual exercises that permanently alter us. A budding pianist at a certain stage spends hours practicing scales, and the novice typist again and again keys in: ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’ Far from being exercises of only temporary value or even busywork, these disciplines actually alter neural pathways such that years later access to the resulting skills can be gained with only a minimum of effort. By the same logic it is said that once you have learned, you can never quite forget how to ride a bicycle.
Solid spiritual disciplines seek to effect the same kind of permanent acquisition. Instead of forbidding chocolate or adding a Bible reading for six-and-a-half weeks, Lenten disciplines drive deeply into the religious psyche by asking questions such as these:
- What progress am I making in sharing gladly what I have with others, particularly with the stranger and the poor?
- What attitudes do I convey to those who irritate me? How can awareness of my own need of God’s grace enable me to be more gracious to them?
- How has my sense of interconnectedness in corporate worship grown of late, and how can I move ahead in the congregation to which I belong?
- Am I as charitable and thoughtful to family members as to others? Or do I ‘take it out’ on my family when life at school or work gets hectic?
- Can I redistribute my long-range personal budget in order to have more money to give away?
- When I hear someone being unjustly maligned, do I speak up to correct the record, or am I a silent accomplice?
- How can I more effectively and consistently support legislation and social programs that help the disadvantaged rather than hurt them?
- In devotional acts of prayer and reading, am I increasing my attention span and discovering new ways of listening rather than of talking, of giving thanks rather than of complaining?
- As I uncover and attempt to deal with one level of prejudice in my life, what other levels do I find lurking underneath, and how can I confront them?
- In addition to intercessory prayer, what habits can I develop that allow me to be more responsive to the sick, the distressed, and the bereaved, particularly when their needs emerge suddenly and require immediate attention? Can I plan spaces into my life to allow for such unanticipated opportunities to minister to others?
- Am I, by consistent attendance at worship, a witness to others of the worthiness of the God I follow? Or am I, by my sporadic attendance, suggesting that God is worth serving some times, but not others?
These and similar disciplines are designed to have effects far past the Lenten season and indeed are intended to produce new pathways of devotion and discipline in the same way that the exercises of the pianist or typist create new and enduring neural pathways.”
-from Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey
I invite you to subscribe to my Daily Devotions as part of your Lenten discipline. Please feel free to comment on the devotions on this site, or on our Facebook Page. You can also follow us on Twitter (@Quiet_Pubs).
May your relationship with the Triune God deepen this Lenten season.