March 8, 2011

The three-fold purpose of Lent

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent, both of which mark the beginning of the observance of the Easter season. Every year this day sneaks up on me so this year Phil and I were determined to have a plan of action. I wanted to make sure that I didn't just pick something randomly to give up. Instead I wanted to really focus on the true meaning of Lent and the three-fold purpose. Everyone knows about the sacrificing portion of Lent but we don't often focus on the other practices. It isn't just about "giving something up". There are in fact three ways in which we are called to change throughout this season. We are called to sacrifice something, food or a bad habit, refocus or re-energize our prayer life and do something for the Lord.

This year Phil and I approached Lent early on. In fact we started talking about what we were going to do right after Easter. We focused on it again during the retreat we went on with our 20's something Bible Study and again at Christmas time. I want to share our Lenten promises with you now. I hope that you will receive inspiration from these but more importantly it is my hope that you will lift us up in prayer as we journey to Easter together.

Our Food Sacrifices
This year Phil and I wanted to honor God with our food sacrifice by practicing solidarity with the poor. We are giving up meat as our official sacrifice but we are also wanting to follow a few other guidelines to help us think more about others who do not have the food priveledges we do as middle class American citizens. We take for granted so much that when we wake up we walk down to the cupboard pull out a bowl, fill it with whatever we want, and chow down. Every day we eat 3 meals and usually a snack or two. But there are many who wake up in the morning hungry and have no idea where there next meal is coming from or if they will even eat a meal. Our hearts were broken for the homeless and working poor when we began taking yearly urban ministry mission trips with our college students and we want to in one way put ourselves in their shoes. We are going to be more mindful of the thing we eat, when we eat, and how we eat. We are going to cut back on our sugar/sweets in take, snacking and processed foods as well as cut out meat entirely. We hope to be reminded through this of the true blessings we receive from God and to continually remember that he has provided us with more that we could ever need.

Deepening our Prayer Life
I am going to be brutally honest and say that aside from before meals, in Bible class on Wednesday, and Sundays and an occasional quick prayer for a hurting loved one or stranger I rarely go to God in prayer. I do not pray each night before going to bed, or each morning when I wake. I want to be that girl but I am just not. I hope to grow one day in to that girl. But one thing I know struck a cord with me is writing prayers. I have received several in the past month and written a couple as part of a Bible Study and Women's Retreat exercise and I really loved it. For me it was a great way to get it all out there and to bless others and be blessed. So for Lent my goal is to write one prayer a week to someone in my family. I am not limiting myself but I am also not setting the standards to high. I hope that this can get me in the habit of making prayer a part of my daily life.

Our gift of service
As part of our 2011 financial goals Phil and I have set aside money to donate to a ministry or program for each month. For the month of April we will be donating to a ministry for the poor in honor of Lent. I want to do something else that will allow me to have a more active role in the service aspect of Lent. I plan to prepare a meal for a family or invite a family/friend to a meal once a week during Lent. It is going to be challenge since I have to think of vegetarian guest friendly meals but I am excited for the challenge and the blessing of getting to know people better. This is also perfect for me as my 2011 ministry goal is in home hospitality. We already have lunch/dinner dates set up for the entire month of March. We just need to book April! I am excited to bless others and allow others to bless me with their company.

I hope that this gives you a good idea of what you can be doing this Lenten season. A blogging friend wrote something last year that I jotted down in my journal to reflect on for years to come and I just love how she put it. She said, "Lent inspires me to stand in awe of the greatest mystery ever seen." So whether you are participating in the season of lent for the first time or not it is my prayer that you are able to draw closer to God, and improve your prayer life while learning the value of sacrifice.

So while we are technically less than an hour away from the start of Lent I encourage you to prayerfully consider what sorts of prayer challenges, sacrifices and works of service you are called to participate in this year.

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