Today is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent, the 40 day period before Easter. It has long been part of the ‘church year’ in more liturgical traditions.
Historically, people would give up certain enjoyable things for the period as a way of focusing their minds more on Jesus and the meaning of his suffering and death. Traditionally, people might give up eating meat, or rich foods for the period. It’s thought that taking a step of self denial represented an appropriate expression of devotion to the Saviour. In less literate times, practices like Lent were powerful tools to deepen awareness of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Today, you’ll hear people talk about how they’ve given up meat, or alcohol, or chocolate, or coffee, or social media/technology – the list is endless. I even saw Matt Wilcoxen remark how his son had declared he was giving up ‘setting the table’ for Lent! I’m not too sure about the level of sacrifice in the last example, but you get the drift: people choose to give something up to help them focus their minds more on Jesus as we move toward celebrating his death and resurrection at Easter.
why not embrace something new?
Here’s a thought: Rather than give something up, why not embrace something new? Why not do something different and step into some guided prayer through Lent? There are excellent resources which will help you develop good habits of regular prayer and reading. Let’s face it: not many of us have healthy habits in that regard, so doing something different could be a great way to develop some healthy spiritual practices.
For most of the suggestions below you’ll want to set aside some time. I know: Who has enough of that? It’s also true, though, that it’s always to find time to do these things. We just have to make time. So, make a conscious decision now to develop some good habits of prayer and stillness during Lent.
Here’s a few excellent resources… They all have great structure, and they’ll all take time, but it will be time well spent.
Three terrific resources for Lent…
Encounter Justice. IJM UK’s Alianore Smith takes us through six prayers in the Bible and how they teach and inspire us to pray – both personally and corporately. Encounter Justice invites us to Learn, Read/Discuss, Pray and Act through the season of Lent. Questions in the Read/Discuss section can also be used in a small group setting. In typical IJM style the stories included show how God is bringing transformation and protecting those who are vulnerable all around the world. If you sign up to receive the updates, you’ll also receive Encounter Justice in .pdf format, so you can take it anywhere!
Pray Like This (Tearfund Australia). An engaging seven week plan focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Pray Like This will encourage you to embody Jesus’ teachings in your own life. As you see prayer and justice intersect, you’ll be drawn into hope and restoration. Signing up for the hardcopy will see you receive a beautifully presented pack, complete with a QR to additional links and resources.
Mitch Everingham recently released The Season of Lent: A Resident Rhythms Guide to Lent. Resilient Rhythm’s approach is to encourage healthy habits of prayer and reading that will help build a resilient faith. This resource has excellent introductory material to help you understand Lent well, and a Bible reading guide for the entire 40 day period. The Resilient Rhythm Journal is also a wonderful resource (I’ll write about that down the track…)
As you do something different this Lent, ask God to open your heart and mind to all he is doing through Jesus to bring grace, life, hope, transformation and restoration through his work.