Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations in the time leading up to Easter. While setting aside a particular period of time to focus on Jesus' death and resurrection is of some value, unfortunately the practice of lent over time has taken on a "sacramental" value. In doing so, it suggests that one can obtain right standing with God or blessing from Him by our own merit and works. Ephesians 2:8-9 states "it is by grace you have been saved... this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works." In addition, Romans 6:23 makes it clear that "the free god of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." As a church family, we want to take advantage of this Lenten season by fervently seeking God together. However, repenting of sin is not something we should do only during Lent. Our desire during this Lenten season is to grow as a church in our spiritual disciplines in order to help us make regular repentance of sin and faith in Jesus a part of each and every day of the year.
Week 1: Simplicity (March 10 - 16)
The discipline of simplicity assumes our lives can get too complicated if we aren't careful. Our closets, calendars and cell phones grow fuller with each passing day. This Lenten season, let us grow our dependency upon Jesus by storing up His Word in our hearts instead of storing more stuff in storage and let us take a break from multi-tasking in order to do a few tasks really well.
Start by putting your cell phone away. Put it out of view and far away when talking to others, especially when you are at home with your family or roommates. Instead of texting, tweeting, and spending time with apps and social media, spend time engaging in real-life conversations with real people.
Additionally, purge your closets, garage, and house of all the excess clutter. Give it away if it's useful, sell it if it's valuable, or throw it away if it's neither. Part with it before the moths and rust destroy it. In order to avoid filling that free space back up, consider taking a break from websites that tempt you to look at products that are new and improved or old and great deals. Take all that energy that was once wasted and redirect it towards loving God and loving people.
Additional Reading: "The Discipline of Simplicity"
Week 2: Fasting (March 17 - 23)
The discipline of fasting assumes we all require regular food and water to stay alive, but that we need God every moment to truly live. Each day we eat and drink something and some days we even put a great deal of thought into exactly what we want to eat or drink that day. During this week of Lent, let's set aside a few meals in a day to skip in order to remind ourselves that without food our stomachs may get hungry, but without God our souls will surely starve.
Start by picking the meals you will skip. For many, skipping breakfast or lunch (or both) may be the easiest on-ramp to practicing this discipline. Seek to use the time you would be preparing, eating, and cleaning up your meal on focused prayer. For some, skipping dinner may be the most effective way to participate. By morning, you will be ready to break your fast at breakfast (the original meaning of the word).
Your stomach will rumble and remind you that you've missed your regularly scheduled programming. Allow the real pangs you feel to remind you that your need for God is just as real. Our goal as a church is not merely to go without food, but to increase our appetites for Jesus, our bread from Heaven, and His Word, the milk and meat of our souls. In keeping with what we see in the Bible, we invite you to pick a set time to fast (Esther 4:16) and to let it be done in secret (Matt. 6:16-18).
Additional Reading: "Fasting for Beginners"
Week 3: Prayer (March 24 - 30)
The discipline of prayer assumes that God hears us, cares for us, and is capable of answering us. If He could not hear us, we would simply be talking to the ceiling. If He did not care for us, we would merely be talking to a brick wall. If He were incapable of answering us, we would be left watching our requests fall flatly on the floor. But our God is attentive, affectionate, and able.
Start by asking those you know how you can be praying for them. Ask them for a few specific requests that have specific ways you can check back to see how God responded. Write these requests down in a prayer journal and set aside specific time to pray for these people and their petitions. Follow up with them to check on the progress of their requests. Pray for them as you would for yourself. Make it a regular habit to place their concerns at the forefront of your mind and watch God work for them and in you as together we seek to love God and the people in our lives more during this season of Lent.
Additional Reading: "Seven Steps to Strengthen Prayer"
Week 4: Hospitality (March 31 - April 6)
The discipline of hospitality assumes every friend was once a stranger. Everyone we know and love at one point was someone we didn't know or love. But we got to know them and the more we did, we began to love them. Hospitality is literally "the love of strangers." Sometimes all it takes is an invitation to change strangers into friends. God has made strangers His friends and foreigners His family by inviting them to a feast (Matt. 22:1-14). Let's grow in godliness and do the same for the strangers God has placed in our lives.
Start with someone whose face you know, but whose story you don't, like a co-worker, neighbor, barista, trainer, waiter/waitress, etc.... Then extend an invitation to them to go out to lunch or to come over for dinner. Spend your time with them asking good questions and getting to know them. Everyone's favorite word is their own name and people typically enjoy telling their story when invited to do so. Be prepared to share a two-minute version of your God story (your life before Jesus, how you came to know Jesus and your life since) with them as many people who are listened to turn around and offer to listen.
Week 5: Service (April 7 - 13)
The discipline of service assumes that our default is to believe the way of the world: those who have arrived have others who serve them. Celebrities have entourages who get their coffee and CEOs have assistants who pick up their dry-cleaning. We all know who the big deal is because they're the one who doesn't serve anymore. This is the opposite of the way of God. Jesus, who was God Almighty, took the form of a servant and humbled Himself to the point of death - and not just any death, but the most humiliating of deaths on a criminal's cross. It is better to give than to receive and to serve than to be served. But we don't think this way naturally, which is why we want to take this time during Lent to remind ourselves of what is truly true.
Start by listening to the people around you. Most people will tell you what they want or what they could use if you simply pay attention. Get creative and find ways to bless people without getting credit. The discipline of service is not just about making ourselves available to others, but seeking reward from God who sees in secret instead of people who can repay us. Luke 6:32-35 says it best: "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil."
Additional Reading: "Consider How to Stir Up One Another To Love"
Week 6: Evangelism (April 14 - 20)
The discipline of evangelism assumes that the Good News is often not the headline of our conversations. It is easier to believe the Good News that Jesus lived, died, and rose again than it is to share that Good News with others. In a world of 24-hour, round-the-clock news and Facebook newsfeeds, there are just so many other things to talk about, right? Let's make it a point in this season of Lent to begin a regular practice of sharing the Good News with others. How can they believe what they've never heard? How can they hear unless someone opens their mouth?
Start by asking some people questions from the spiritual survey below. These questions are designed to help you engage others and to discuss spiritual topics. A wise man once said, "first you must relate to people about natural things, then you create an opportunity for the conversation to be spiritual, next you must convict them of their need to know the one, true God, and lastly you must reveal to them who this God is and what He has done." In other words, be nice to people, intentionally ask a few questions that could lead to deeper conversations, and then be prepared to explain what you believe, why you believe and why you want them to believe it too.
Additional Resource: Spiritual Surveys