"Ash Wednesday" by Carl Spitzweg

Not unlike most mornings, I woke up this morning feeling anxious.  The first thing on my mind was, of all things holy and blessed, Facebook.  I have found myself the last couple of weeks participating in (even provoking) some controversial conversations.  I don't handle these kinds of conversations well, let alone have the time for them.  They oftentimes keep me up late into the night and disable me from being fully present with my family.  It's no wonder I'm a ball of anxiety.

What Is Lent and Why Should We Practice It?
Lent is the season in the Christian year when followers of Jesus walk with him to his death and burial. The season lasts forty days (not including Sundays).  It begins Ash Wednesday and ends Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday).  It is a time for the church to re-order its life once again into the Story that defines who we are.  We do so by simplifying our lives, centering on Christ and joining together with others while we do it.  Glenn Packiam spells it out nicely here.

Lent is about rhythm.  We are rhythmic creatures.  We do things in sequences and steps, marching to the beats of drummers.  The problem is, as Jesus constantly pointed out to his disciples, there are lots of drummers out there, pounding away to capture our attention, calling us to follow them and submit to their story.  Lent is the Jesus drum, calling us back into the left-right-left of God's Story.  If it's not Jesus' drum that we're marching to, it's someone else's.  If it's not the Story of God that we're submitting our lives to, it is someone else's story.  I promise.  So Lent is also a time for the church to renounce all the other stories we have lived into, and to submit singularly to God's Story.

But this is not a robotic submission.  Robots don't have hearts.  We march to the beats of drummers because we actually like the music they're playing.  We desire the life they present to us, and so we follow them.  With every beat and subsequent step we are being formed to look like the drummer we're following.  This is why it's so important that we get in step with Jesus.  We want to be like him.

In a phrase, Lent is a season to renounce and re-order our rhythms into Christ.

The Practices of Lent
Renouncing and re-ordering our rhythms takes practice.  Practices shape us into the kinds of people who love certain things.  The practices of Lent are intended to spiritually transform us, to re-shape our desires toward the things of God.  Lent will only do the work it's intended to do if we submit our hearts and bodies to its practices.  There are both communal and individual practices.

The communal practices of Lent are pretty straightforward.  You could call them the "family traditions" of our faith that great men and women in history have discerned and laid our before us.  Your local church may also have some practices that the leaders have discerned to fit your unique context.  The communal practices of Lent allow Christians to unite together in prayer as one body.  It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the church gathers to consider our mortality: "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return."  The communal practices continue throughout Lent as we gather around the table in our churches and homes, centering our lives on Christ, strengthening one another.  And finally, we enter fully into the Passion Story by corporately proclaiming and re-enacting the events of Holy Week.

The individual practices of Lent require a different kind of discernment.  God is doing a unique work in each of our lives, and each of us is responsible for our own heart and actions.  But before we know how to act, and to ensure that our hearts are engaged (that our actions aren't merely robotic), we must hear what God is saying to us.  So as you're discerning what to "give up" and/or "take on" as an individual practice, I invite you to reflect on these questions, first listening for what God is saying to you, and then responding accordingly.  You may want to invite others to help you discern a practice.

  • Why should I "give up" or "take on" something this season?  How will this re-order my life in Christ?
  • Am I willing to submit to the practices of Lent?  If not, why not?  Could I make it my individual practice to submit to a communal practice?
  • Is there a "drummer" in my life that I need to renounce?  What small step could I take to begin marching to the beat of Jesus?
  • What activities are already part of my daily life rhythms? How can I be present with God more fully in the midst of them?
  • Is there something I tell myself I cannot live without, but I actually can live without?  Can I abstain from it for a season and replace it with another practice?
  • What rhythm (or spiritual discipline) have I always wished was a vibrant part of my spiritual life? Why isn't it?  Could I replace something in my life with this rhythm?
  • What in my life makes me anxious, angry, or afraid?  Why?  What could it look like to surrender this to God?
I hope this is helpful.  I haven't discerned an individual practice for myself yet.  I will submit this to my wife and a few friends and see what they think, but my practice might involve laying off the Facebook and perhaps giving myself over to more healthy rhythms of sleep and family time.  May God bless you as you enter faithfully into this season of renouncing and re-ordering your rhythms into Christ.

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