As we begin the season of Lent there can be a lot of chatter about fasting, and we want to guard our hearts against missing the point entirely. It’s good to give up the things in our lives to which we tend to become attached. It’s not a bad thing that we give up social media, television, desserts, shopping, etc. We can all agree that in the course of a year we have probably packed a great deal of *stuff* into our lives that needs cleaned out. But if we mentally check a “fasting” box and move on, then we are going to miss the point of our fasting — to miss God’s idea of fasting — this Lent.
The point of fasting and prayer is to be able to hear God’s voice and do his will. It is good to fast from things that we are attached to so that we will be attached to God instead. It is also good to fast from things that take our time so that we have more time to spend with God. But it can be easy to get caught up in the spiritual practice of fasting and miss the point of it, which is to hear God’s voice…AND then do His will. What is God’s will? What kind of direction should we look for from Him when we fast? What is He going to say to us?
One of the readings in the Liturgy of The Hours for Ash Wednesday is from Isaiah 58. In this passage, God pretty explicitly lays out what His idea of fasting is and what kind of result it should have in our lives. Look at verses 6-7:
“This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking free every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
Pretty clear, right? But let’s break it down a step further. If we are fasting with ears listening and hands ready for the Lord’s work, then we are going to personally hear God tell us: Continue reading “Fasting 101”
Ash Wednesday is the day after tomorrow — Lent seems to have snuck up fast this year! I’m sure you would not be alone if you are still deciding what to do for Lent. I have some suggestions that might help you. I’m not going to give you ideas of what to fast from or give up — listen to the Holy Spirit for that. But I do have some ideas for your reading/study material. I have three options that are all pretty different from each other…
Option #1 – Facebook Book Club
For those who enjoy online book clubs (and are not giving up social media for Lent), you may want to join the FB Abiding Together Podcast book study. I’m not a follower of this podcast, but I know a couple of people who listen to it and/or are participating in the study. The group is reading and discussing Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. I’m definitely going to add this book to my “Want To Read” category — it looks like a good one.
Option #2 – The Seven Penitential Psalms
Meditating on the psalms is a wonderful option for both Bible study and prayer. The psalms themselves make up a significant portion of liturgical prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. There are Seven Penitential Psalms that are especially good to study and meditate on during penitential seasons/days of the Church: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. (The link above has some reflections too.) My recommendation would be to take one psalm for each of the six weeks of Lent to study and meditate on in prayer all week. Then tag on the seventh one during Holy Week or on Good Friday.
Option #3 – Read the Book of Exodus
You will see a lot of Exodus readings during Lent, because that’s an important book for this season of the Church. It’s kind of convenient — 40 days of Lent, 40 chapters in Exodus. Read a chapter a day. Start on Ash Wednesday and finish by Easter. (Hint: Sundays are not part of the 40 days of Lent. So you can use those to catch up if you get behind.) I’m actually doing this for Lent with a married couples group at our church. We are using this study with the text, commentary, and study questions by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.
Whatever you decide on, remember the point — to detach from the desire to please ourselves and draw closer to the Lord; to be abandoned to Him. Ask Him what will accomplish that goal for you. God bless your Lenten journey!
How about you? Any addition studies out there you want to recommend?
Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey
It is the second Sunday of Advent, and we light the “Bethlehem Candle” of faith today, or the candle of “preparation.” Advent is really all about preparing to give birth to, and sustain, new life – to allow the Holy Spirit to do a new work in our hearts and our walk with the Lord. That is why the rhythm of the Church doesn’t start with Christmas. Our hearts cannot welcome the birth of Christ without preparation. Part of that preparation is a realization of the long groaning of all of creation throughout the centuries of salvation history.
But another important part of Advent is to recognize what Christ still means to fulfill in our individual lives. We are still waiting for the complete fulfillment of the promise of that covenant relationship made so long ago to make all things new and for our Father to fully restore us to himself. The Advent of our King was not a one-time event. It is a once-for-all-time event. Which means that his coming in our lives – and the new life he births in us because of his birth – is reoccurring – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
So the question that I have for you in the middle of your Advent season is this: What is it that Christ wants to give birth to in your life this Advent? What is he preparing you for, and how is he preparing you to walk more closely with him?
I want to use a pregnancy analogy (since I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant), to help describe three possible seasons of Advent that may be happening in your heart right now. Think first of the woman whose pregnancy and expectation of a new life is filled with nothing but joy. Everything about it is wonderful and exciting. My first pregnancy was like this. It’s a happy time…not without its overwhelming moments of how life will change…but you are preparing for this new birth with a welcoming joy.
In the spiritual life, these are the easiest and best Advent seasons, aren’t they? Preparing for what God is about to do, for the unique way that he appears to be coming in your life, is full of joy. During this time God may be giving birth to lots of exciting new things and wonderful insights. It might be a time of blessing, and you are probably being called to bless others through that blessing. This may be a time when you are experiencing a lot of spiritual consolations too. These are good times in the spiritual life. But these are not always the only seasons of Advent that God has for us. Continue reading “3 Possible Advents, 3 Prayers”