Thoughts on Lent

Throughout Lent, I tried to commit to reading two chapters of the Bible each night. I mused on this decision at the beginning of Lent. Now that we have reached Easter Sunday, it’s a good point to reflect on how much I committed to this decision.

I didn’t read every night, but I did read on most nights. I did read the whole of the book of Matthew. (I have to confess, I may not have read every word. When I was flicking through Ben’s children’s Bible the other day, I came across the story of the coin in the fish’s mouth, as told in Matthew 17:24-27. I had completely skipped this story in my reading.) I moved on to the book of Mark.

I really enjoyed spending some time reading the Gospels, and felt challenged by some of the things I had read, as I usually do when I’m reading the Bible. I was struck once again by the nature and number of the miracles that Jesus performed. I was struck by the constant sniping and complaints from the Pharisees as they plotted to trick him. And, of course, I was struck by His mercy and grace. Sometimes, I get so tangled up in issues and a sense of obligation that I lose sight of exactly who Jesus is: the almighty Son of God.

Reading two chapters of the Bible each night helped me focus my prayers too, as my prayers were inspired by what I had read. Practically, it also helped me to wind down at the end of each day, and it brought a sense of calm and completion to each day as it ended.

I’m planning to continue reading two chapters of the Bible each night. It’s a good discipline to get into, and I learn more and more each day about God.

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Lent

So today is the beginning of Lent. 40 days of fasting, to focus our minds on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. 40 days as He spent 40 days in the Wilderness. 

Fasting is biblical; we are encouraged to fast to fight against injustice and on behalf of those who are suffering. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” says Isaiah 58:6. Fasting strengthens prayer, it focuses minds, it encourages the spirit. 

Fasting is also very fashionable with the 5:2 diet. Devotees fast 2 days out of every week in an effort to improve their health and to lose weight. In fact, during Biblical times, many Jews would fast two days out of every week, usually Monday and Thursday. 

For most people, fasting involves giving up food. Early observers of Lent would only eat one meal a day. During the Middle Ages, believers would give up meat, eggs and dairy, leading to Pancake Day on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the first day of Lent. Nowadays, many people give up what they consider to be a bad habit – chocolate being a common one. However, fasting can also involve giving up other luxuries. I remember one friend who fasted perfume, as it was a real pleasure for her to wear expensive perfume. For her, that was a more significant sacrifice than food.

It would probably be good for me to give up food; biscuits would be an obvious choice. While part of me likes the idea of giving up dairy, eggs and meat, I know that I would find this a huge challenge. However, while I am still breastfeeding, I’ve decided not to limit myself too much – I am already avoiding caffeine and alcohol. 

I am also focusing on certain aspects of my life each month: January was exercise, February is my marriage, and so on. So I didn’t want that to overlap too much. 

So instead of fasting, I’ve decided to commit to reading two chapters of the Bible each day. That’s all – it won’t take me too long, but it will nourish me spiritually. I’ve started in Matthew, as it is a long time since I’ve read the Gospels.

Lent is a season of preparation, not of denial: it ends with the amazing celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That is what we are preparing for. I want to use this time to get to know the word of God better.Rather than focusing on what I am missing, I want to focus on what I gain this year. 

The G&T Conference

This weekend (Friday evening and Saturday daytime) has been the G&T conference run by Ivy Manchester. It was a women’s conference, and is the first conference organised specifically for women at Ivy for a very long time.

G&T did not stand for Gin and Tonic. Which was a shame, but probably not all that spiritual. No, in fact, G&T stood for Grace and Truth.

Because Jesus was full of Grace and Truth:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

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The whole event felt very luxurious, somehow: from non-alcoholic cocktails with olives and pistachios on the Friday evening to Pain au Chocolat and fresh fruit on Saturday morning. The fliers and programmes were well-designed and printed, with a CD of meditation music for each guest. To be honest, part of the luxury for me was the chance to spend some time away from my six-month old son and really focus on what God was saying and to spend time in His presence. I love my son whole-heartedly, but it’s difficult to concentrate in church while you’re rocking a baby to sleep or mopping up baby sick during the sermon.

There were some key teachings that I’d just like to pull out from each session, mostly to help me remember.

Session 1: Friday night

If we imagine ourselves to be trees, we have roots and bear fruit (this is backed up by lots of scripture). Our roots are in the soil. We can imagine the soil to be the truth, or the law. We need it to keep steady, and to grow. Our roots need to go deep into the truth for us to bear any fruit.

But too much soil (soil compaction) can damaged roots, so we also need water and air. This is grace. We need to cultivate the balance between staying rooted in the truth but also resting in God’s endless grace to bear fruit.

Session 2: Saturday morning

Much of this session focused on Spiritual Gifts, as well as some excellent teaching on having a servant heart.

Through completing a rather complex questionnaire, I discovered that my Spiritual Gifts are:

First Place: Hospitality – not a big surprise, but I was surprised that it was my strongest one.

Joint Second Place: Teaching, Pastoring, Writing – These are gifts I would really like to develop. I have always been in very effective and proactive small groups, and I would say that this weekend I have been encouraged by God that this is a real area for my ministry. I don’t know how this will develop, but I am willing to try new things.

Session 3: Saturday afternoon

During this session, each woman at the conference had to draw around her hand on a piece of paper and write her name on the back. These hands were then spread around the room on the floor. We each had to go around and write messages of encouragement or prophecy onto each of the hands. I don’t want to share mine here as they are too personal, but I was encouraged and strongly reminded of God’s incredible love for us all.

So often, I go to things like this expecting God to ‘do business’ with me, and for it to involve tears, condemnation and guilt. It never, ever has.

Instead, God reassures, reaffirms and LOVES in the only way He can.