It is hard to believe that we stand on the cusp of Lent, a season that begins with ashes (strangely enough on Valentine’s Day this year) and ends with the solemnity of the cross.
Lent is a season defined by the “3 Lenten Disciplines:” prayer, fasting and alms-giving. These practices aren’t anything new for Christians, we are supposed to engage them year-round, but I can say that’s easier said than done. This Lent I am committing myself to a renewed emphasis of these practices and I’ve turned to Jesus for some guidance.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” ~ Matt. 6:6
As pastor, I tend to find myself praying a lot, often in public settings...which doesn’t bode well for me according to Jesus. (Writing an article for public consumption about my desire to pray more during Lent also seems to fly in the face of this, but I digress...). Every time we meet, eat and worship we pray together. Sometimes we pray words before us and other times we come up with the words as we go, but we always pray from the heart, which is a secret place. It is no secret that I am better at praying for what I/we need, than for what I/we have. In other words, I am hoping to find more ways to stop and say “thank you, God,” even though I know this often isn’t my priority. We have been rewarded with the Kingdom of Heaven already through Christ, and that gift is always worth giving thanks for, even in the simplest of ways.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” ~ Matt. 4:3-4
As pastor, I am unusually well fed as people tend to extend hospitality in the form of food nearly everywhere I go. Fasting, thankfully, is not limited to food. Growing up I heard a lot about friends giving up chocolate, and I was constantly reminded of that sacrifice with every bite of chocolate I ate. Fasting isn’t about an attempt to draw attention ourselves or “looking gloomy.” Rather, it is about removing the things that get in the way of genuine relationships with God and each other. Maybe that means a respite from social media (a breeding place for less-than-helpful relationships) or a renewed commitment spending time with family, fasting from over-working.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. ~ Matt. 6:3
As pastor, I talk about almsgiving/tithing/stewardship/money quite a bit. Like it or not, we live in a society that is driven by money, and as a church situated in that context, money is a part of our reality as church. As a kid I loved the task of collecting a quarter a day in order to complete “Lenten Coin Folder.” There was a deep sense of challenge and excitement involved in this collection, and turning it in on Easter Sunday was one of my favorite things. As an adult, this giving can be difficult as my right and left hands try to balance my faith practices alongside of my financial needs. The almsgiving may not be as much as I would like, but sometimes it’s the simple action of gathering those extra quarters that reveals a renewed sense of excitement. A few fistfuls of quarters alone may not amount to much individually, but collectively, the effort of almsgiving makes great and life-giving things possible.
Come and join me on this Lenten journey. Whether it be a renewed emphasis on 1, or all 3, of these practices, it is an opportune time to find renewal in our relationships with each other in the name of the risen Lord.
Pr. Zak Wagner