Lent: Why You Should Do Something Different

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.

Violence: Primary Cause of Poverty in the Developing World – #LocustEffect

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The reality of poverty in the developing world seems ever present. Which week goes by without television or web based news reports showing us thousands of people in refugee camps, or poverty stricken communities coping with natural disaster?

There are also many wonderful non-government organisations seeking responding to the plight of the global poor. Child sponsorship programs like Compassion, World Vision, and others do a tremendous amount of good to develop world communities.

Recently I have read and reviewed The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press). This ground breaking book exposes a dimension of global poverty that we simply have not seen: the primary factor perpetuating poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth is violence. Violence accounts for the reality that despite the generous international aid provided by wealthier nations, and despite the wonderful work done through child sponsorship and other compassionate programs, the plight of the developing world’s poorest people has not changed in any meaningful sense.

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Law enforcement and justice systems in the developing world are generally broken and dysfunctional. Worse: The Locust Effect cites case after case where police, far from protecting the most vulnerable people in the developing world, actually perpetrate violence against them. The justice systems which are supposed to restrain evil are so broken that they often intensify the violence and suffering of the poor.

The Locust Effect shows us that ending the violence and transforming systems of justice is the missing piece of the puzzle in assisting the poor of the developing world. We need to realise that in terms of our compassionate response to the plight of the global poor, all our efforts will only have limited value if we cannot stop the plague of violence tearing away at the life and hope of the world’s poorest.

There are important implications here for Christian and denominational aid organisations. We certainly need to continue what we are doing to assist good mission, grow Gospel ministry, and to address the needs of the communities we are working with. At the same time, Christian aid and mission organisations need to partner with agencies like International Justice Mission. As they do, they can assist in the reformation of justice systems long broken and dysfunctional. This will also provide much needed support for those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of violent perpetrators.

If this is any interest to you, I urge you to buy a copy of The Locust Effect. The authors are deeply Christian men, and the organisation they work with, International Justice Mission, does profound and valuable work coming to the aid of the world’s poor. The Christian worldview evidenced in IMJ’s work harmonises wonderfully with a Christian reformed heritage. There are many opportunities for collaboration.

In future posts, I will examine some more specifics of why violence is likened to a plague of locusts. Until then, please order a copy of The Locust Effect.

While the book is published in an academic format (footnotes, etc) it remains exceptionally readable. For me, it was an eye opening and, in places, confronting read. It has been incredibly valuable in deepening my understanding of global poverty, and how we should be responding as Christians. I heartily recommend it to you.

All copies of The Locust Effect sold during the week of Feb 03 will attract a $20 donation to IJM from a very generous friend of the organisation (US buyers only). So, for those of you in the US, buying the book is like making a donation to this very important work! Brilliant!

All general book royalties go straight to IJM