Prayer walking through Lent

Most of us believe that self-denial for a season is good for our soul. It reassures us that we are not locked into self-satisfaction and it encourages us to aspire to higher values.

But committing to self-denial for the 40 days of Lent needs a determined mindset and a calling to something higher.

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Getting up at 6.00am daily through the season of Lent to pray and walk round our neighbourhood was my husband’s calling, not mine.  However, I found I could not stay at home under the comfort of the duvet while he set off into the frosty dawn. I knew the experience would be significant for him and I didn’t want to miss out.  So I joined him.

Ours is a middle class neighbourhood with 49 streets set out in three regions.  Our church congregation meets in the primary school building right in the middle. Generally people here lead independent and self sufficient lives. Everything appears peaceful in the dawn light. And yet we know that behind the locked doors, the shadow side of these traits is loneliness and vulnerability.

Each morning we started by reading scripture then asking God to guide our eyes, ears, thoughts and prayers as we walked.  Philip Yancey, when he prays for others, asks God to open his eyes to see that person as God sees them, and then to enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward them.

To give our prayers a framework we used the Caleb Prayer written by Roy Godwin at Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales. His book, The Grace Outpouring – Blessing others through prayer tells his amazing story of God working in sovereign power on people who weren’t even sure he existed.

O High King of heaven

Have mercy on our Land.

Revive your Church;

Send the Holy Spirit for the sake of the children.

May your kingdom come to our nation.

In Jesus’ mighty name.  Amen

Day by day the scene around us changed.  The frost lifted and splashes of colour appeared everywhere; daffodils, magnolia, cherry blossom.  Almost overnight the trees became green.  It felt humbling and inspiring to witness the power and glory of Spring unfolding around us.

And so we arrive at Easter Day – the day when everything changed.   Our 40 days of prayer walking is over. It has been a journey of sacrifice and discovery for us.  We look to see what God is doing in our community and what role we can play in bringing others to awareness of what can happen when Jesus makes his home in us.

If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you are not just believing an odd fact from two thousand years ago; you are trusting that there is a kind of life, a kind of love and trust and joy that is the very essence of Jesus’ identity which is now coming to life in you. . . . Jesus rises from the dead so as to find not only his home in heaven but his home in us.  (Rowan Williams Choose Life  p122)

 

 

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Good Friday – it’s ok to ask why we suffer

Surely God is good . . . to those who are pure in heart.

But is it true?

Is there anyone who can explain why bad things happen to good people?

Today is Good Friday.  “Stay with the suffering at the Cross” says our vicar.  “Easter will come, but today we must focus on the pain.”

And so we get into the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and see it from all angles.

We feel the guilt, fear, abandonment, confusion, anger and deep, deep pain. We hear one muttering “Why me?” and another declaring “This is not my fault.”

“Now look into your own life” says our leader. “See what grieves or embitters your spirit. Write it down and nail it to the Cross. Leave it there.”

“Jesus’ suffering brings our healing”

Surely God is good . . . to those who are pure in heart.

But bad things do happen again and again to good people.

Why?

We read Psalm 73

Surely God is good . . . . to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me . . I envied the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

. . Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure

and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long I have been afflicted

and every morning brings new punishments.

Is there an answer to why bad things happen to good people?

Even the Vicar says he does not know.

But today is GOOD Friday.

And it is GOOD because Jesus’ suffering shows that God is present WITH US in our suffering.

 . . you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel.

LENT – making it meaningful

 giving up for lent

Twitter was buzzing recently as 140 thousand people shared information about what they plan to give up for Lent. While Twitter users are not necessarily representative of the general population, the results make interesting reading. Using social media, eating chocolate and drinking alcohol are high on the list. Ranked 11th is giving up Lent itself. Looks like we know our soft spots well –  the places where we give in to self-indulgence and carry a bit of guilt.

For years I put myself alongside those who gave up giving things up. I have dabbled in giving up chocolate, or coffee, but I usually struggled to stay committed. You see my heart has not been in it.  Lent carries us directly to Good Friday where we remember the suffering and death of Jesus. In contrast to this, my small attempts at self-denial felt trivial and led me to nothing that was remotely life changing. I couldn’t see a meaningful link between chocolate and crucifixion. The church I attended paid little attention to Lent. Easter for us at that time was about Holy Week – but it all seemed to happen too quickly.  The momentum of life charged on and I was left once again feeling cheated.  This was a big moment and I missed most of it.

Lent draws us in. We share an unspoken belief that self-denial is a good thing to do and 40 days feels like an amount of time that can be endured. Some of us use Lent to kick-start change in our lives. Others use it as a way of proving to ourselves and to others that our self-indulgent habits are reversible. We reckon we are in control of what we choose to do. And we believe that the tension between self-control and self-indulgence can be mastered. After all, we cheered through the Olympics as countless athletes panted through their victory speech, elated at their success and struggling to believe the unbelievable.

And yet there is a spiritual dimension to Lent that we also acknowledge. All of the major religions recognise a period of fasting for the development of the soul. This is about taking time to reflect on who we are becoming. It can be serious stuff. The ancient ascetics gave their lives to the pursuit of this spiritual maturity, practicing harsh penances and purging themselves of all comfort. Our meagre 40 days of giving up a few pleasures would be wholly inadequate in their eyes.

The story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness is sobering. It shows us that the battle against self-indulgence is part of being human. We constantly face temptation about who we are, what we own and what we do. Our choices have consequences.

So how can we engage with the tension between self-indulgence and self-control and use Lent in a meaningful way to gain some spiritual muscle?

Here are two resources that link together ancient spiritual practices with modern technology and amazing people. Together they have been transformational for me.

First I have read and re-read The Liturgical Year – the spiralling adventure of the spiritual life. This is a book written by a Benedictine nun that explores the liturgy – the major seasons of the church. In the liturgy, with its annual repetitions, we meet Jesus in history and we learn to recognise him with us today. Far from being a round of Christmas and Easter celebrations, walking in an annual cycle through the life of Jesus becomes ” an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fulness, the heart to alert and the soul to focus . . . It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life”.

Seeing the rhythm of the years from the perspective of Jesus’ life keeps me focussed on God’s bigger picture. It reminds me of the significance of time. It helps me to understand who I am and to explore the purpose of my life.

24-7 PrayerAnd the second change for me has been to engage with a rhythm of prayer, specifically to pray the Lord’s prayer at midday every day. I discovered the richness of this through 24-7 Prayer, an organisation that exists to encourage Christians in bringing prayer into all aspects of life. This online community has been an enormous encouragement to me. Many christians run away from set prayers that could become a religious ritual. But the Lord’s Prayer is deeply significant. It challenges who I am, what I believe and how I behave. And best of all, it reminds me at the very beginning, that I am a child of God.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, was once asked, “If you could reduce all of Christianity down to the back of a single envelope what would you write?” To which he replied: “Well that’s simple, I would write out the words of The Lord’s Prayer”.

The 24-7 community gave us a challenge to set an alarm on our phones and pray the Lord’s prayer with them at midday every day. Have a look at the website here and consider whether this might work for you. The challenge is for life, not just for Lent.

How do you make Lent meaningful?