By AC Alivizatos
In Riccardo’s first blog post in this series, he compared observing Lent to hanging up photos of his family in his dorm as a college freshman. The photos didn’t somehow allow him to “earn” his way into his family; he was already a part it. In fact, he was born into his family. The photos also didn’t make his family love him more. Their love for him was already secure. In fact, that’s part of the reason he said he put them up in the first place: to remind himself of their love and deepen his affection for them. This season of Lent is an opportunity for us to do the same thing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The natural question. Then, is this: what are the “photos” I can hang up on my wall during Lent? In other words, what are the ways I can remind myself of Christ’s love for me and deepen my own affection for him? Admittedly, there are countless ways to answer that question. A brief glance at our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church will reveal an entire system that has been developed for its members. Rather than imposing such a code of conduct upon you, dear reader, I will instead suggest some rhythms that you can intentionally and contextually incorporate into your normal daily life. (As an aside, these rhythms can also be found on the back of the Lent bookmark that we have been handing out at church!)
The first rhythm is Rest. From the very beginning, we see that this is an integral part of human existence in this created world. God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh, modeling this practice for us from the time we were first created. Think about that for a second. We know that meditating on Scripture is an important discipline. Yet, Adam and Eve never had a Bible to crack open! In fact, the first five books of the Bible weren’t even written and compiled into the Torah until much later. However, even the very first created humans had the opportunity and responsibility to rest.
But how do we rest well? Here are four words that can be a great place to start thinking about Sabbath: playing, praying, gratitude, and generosity. Part of resting is playing. Find something that captures your imagination and is fun to do. But don’t just play; you should also pray. For example, at times I like to play NBA 2K on my PS3 for an hour or two on my day off. It captures my imagination, relieves stress, and it’s fun to do. But I don’t want to play alone. I want Jesus all up in my business. So, I pray as I play. If I throw up a lob pass for a Laker to dunk on someone, I might also throw up a lob prayer to the Lord, thanking him for how he just as decisively defeated our enemies of sin and death. Or if I can construct a roster of basketball players of different positions that fit well together on the court, I can marvel at how God has constructed a body of believers with different abilities that fit well together in mission. If riding a bicycle in the sunshine or going for a beautiful hike is the way you like to play, think about how those things remind you of the glory of God, and pray through those things.
Gratitude and generosity are also key aspects of rest. Resting from work is a great opportunity to step back and take a look at what God has done, is doing, and will do in your life and in the lives of others around you. From that posture of gratitude, give! We are blessed to be a blessing, and we will never find rest until we press into that truth. Sabbath is a great time to share your time, meals, and possessions with others, particularly those who may not have the luxury to rest in the same way you can.
A second rhythm is Hear. In an age when smartphones and social media have made communication with people around the globe easier than ever, hearing God in the midst of competing voices can often feel like an uphill battle. Of course, this isn’t an entirely unique problem: Proverbs 8 metaphorically describes both Wisdom and Folly crying out from the high places of the city to all who would pass by. The good news is that God is always speaking. The bad news is that so is everyone else.
What would it look like, then, to devote a designated period of time disconnected from all devices and distractions? What if you spent that time praying to more clearly hear God, reading the Bible, or even listening to sermons, podcasts, or worship music? You’d be surprised how much louder the voice of God becomes when you set aside undistracted time to turn down the volume of everyone else.
Another rhythm is Share. If you recall the time that we spent as a church in the book of Acts, you might remember that the very last thing Jesus said to his disciples was, “You will be my witnesses.” As the disciples also stated in Acts, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” That’s what witnesses do. They speak of what they have seen and heard. You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post right now unless you had seen and heard of Jesus in a way that has touched and transformed your life. You, too, are a witness. You have a story to tell.
Telling that story to others who don’t believe in the Lordship of Christ can be an intimidating task. But remember that the Spirit saves people, not us. He just asks us to participate. So rather than burden ourselves with figuring out how to present full blown Billy Graham style sermons to our coworkers, let’s lower the bar a bit. Here are 10 ways we can be witnesses in ways we normally don’t think about:
1) Pray for the salvation of specific people by name
2) Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
3) Ask friends about their faith (Don’t chime in with how your beliefs are similar or different; just listen!)
4) Listen to your friends’ problems (and perhaps offer to pray for them)
5) Share your problems with others and testify to how your faith helps you
6) Give them a book to read
7) Share your testimony
8) Answer objections and questions about your faith
9) Invite them to a church event
10) Offer to read the Bible with them
Each of these ideas kind of build on the previous ones, but you obviously don’t need to go in strict order. But during this season of Lent, try setting aside a day each week to just do one or two. Start there, and start with prayer. See what God does as you share.
In addition to Share, there is also the rhythm of Serve. It is in the DNA of God’s people to be outward-focused. Our Lord and Teacher himself said that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Pray for eyes to see the needs of the vulnerable and opportunities to serve. And set aside a time each week to tangibly serve others and meet their needs. If you’re not sure where to start, go http://redaz.in/here to check out some of these ways people from our church are already serving the vulnerable.
It is also good for us to regularly become aware of our own vulnerability. There is a number of ways to do this, and one of them is the rhythm of Hunger. Fasting is something that the people of God has done for thousands of years. By removing food or something else we depend upon to protect us from feeling vulnerable, we swing the door wide open to feeling weak, small, and helpless. Why would we want to feel that way? To stoke our affections for Christ and his word. Let that hunger remind you of God’s passionate desire for you. Let that weakness remind you of how Christ made himself weak to make you strong. Let that helplessness remind you to lift up your eyes to the hills where your true help comes from (Psalm 121:1–2).
Another rhythm is Gather. When God created the first human in his image, his first remark was that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. In light of the New Testament, this makes all the more sense, seeing how we are created in the image of a Triune God. At the core of who God is, He is relational. The same is true of us. Make it a point to get together with fellow believers and spend time encouraging one another.
Finally, there is Reflect. I cannot tell you how helpful it is to have a time each week to regularly reflect on life in the light of Christ. If you’re anything like me, days can quickly become weeks, and weeks can quickly become months. And then I can find myself wondering: where did the time go? Not only can time fly by, but so can opportunities to see God at work in your life. It’s been said that God is always doing a thousand things in one’s life at any given time, and they might only be aware of two or three. But one might not be aware of any of them if they never take the time to smell the roses and thank the God who planted them there to be enjoyed.
As you can see, regularly reminding yourself of God’s love during the time of Lent doesn’t have to be adhering to a rigid, religious set of rules. Rather, it can be seeking to walk in step with the Spirit of God through a few rhythms that you can incorporate into your everyday life. My prayer is that as you hang up these photos on the dorm wall of our lives, Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.