A strange adjustment as a District Superintendent is that I no longer get to plan and lead many special services. As the pastor of a local church, I enjoyed the rhythm of the Christian year. One of my favorite services to plan (OK, I have a lot of favorites!) was Ash Wednesday. It has surprised me over the years how few denominations celebrate Ash Wednesday. It always amused me when people in the community could identify where people received their ash cross by just looking at the cross.
Lent has a special place in my heart. I see it as a reflective time to not only focus on areas in our life where we need to repent, but a time to grow stronger as a Christian. Even though I’m a life-long Methodist, it wasn’t until college that I really heard about Lent. I remember the campus minister at the Wesley Foundation saying that during this season we should give up something that we love. Every year I still hear people having conversations about “What are you giving up this year?” Things like Facebook and chocolate are often the answer. I have a different take on how to approach Lent.
My take on Lent is how do we add to our Christian life? Sometimes this does mean abstaining from something, like how much time we spend watching television or using the computer. It might also include things like fasting on a weekly basis. The purpose, though, isn’t to give up something that we love in order to suffer. It is to make room to add to our lives. How often have we said that we don’t have time to read the Bible or to pray? We all experience the same amount of time each day. The question is how do we use this time?
We might find that we already have room in our day (or week) to add to our Christian practices as a part of our Lenten discipline. Adding Christian practices rarely happens accidentally. There needs to be time during the year that encourages us to take a honest and hard look at our Christian lives. Lent is this kind of season.
After a lot of thought, I decided that my Lenten discipline will include a project. My intention is to make our house’s over-grown side yard into a prayer garden. My plans are nothing elaborate. The first step is to clean out the lush crop of weeds. Then I’m going to set up the cement table/benches that have been on the ground since we moved in sixteen months ago. The bigger challenge will be setting up the little fountain that we bought about three years ago, and never used. My wife and I bought it as a mutual Christmas gift, then we went on a trip. Somehow, we managed to never set it up. This is a good season to change that. I know that I’ve seen the pump since we moved in, I just need to figure out where! Once this is accomplished, I will see about a couple of pots of plants to add some color. What, then, will I pray about?
Through St. Mark’s UMC in Tucson, I have been made aware of a ministry called Open Doors. Open Door’s purpose is to serve persecuted Christians worldwide. I was shocked to find out that this is the organization of one of my heroes in the faith. His name is Brother Andrew. Many years ago, when I was a young pastor, one of my churches on a three-point charge had a library. Two of the books introduced me to people who have impacted my entire ministry. “The Hiding Place” told me about Corrie Ten Boom, and “God’s Smuggler” shared the faith of Brother Andrew. I have now had the chance to meet three people who minister with Open Doors, and one of them is sharing a meal with Brother Andrew in two weeks! Brother Andrew is ninety-one years old and has never known that he has changed my life. I have asked for my card to be given to Brother Andrew, and to be told about me.
Open Doors is also increasing my Lenten discipline by adding to my prayer life. They have an app that shares world-wide prayer concerns for persecuted Christians. The cool part is that once I have prayed, I can hit a button that will let them know that I have prayed. The number of people praying is then shared with those being persecuted. Since the world-wide church is growing in the midst of persecution, we are not being asked to pray for persecution to end. Instead, we are to pray for ways to move forward. This is something that I can do!
Have you picked your Lenten discipline? Lent isn’t over until Easter, so there is still time!
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Further thoughts: If you would like to join your prayers with Open Doors, you can find them on-line at OpenDoorsUSA.org/take-action/Pray. This web-site can also help you find the prayer App if you are interested.