Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday. (In reality, it’s 45 days because Sundays are still supposed to be observed as a Sabbath.) Interestingly enough, Lent is not a tradition we find in the bible, but it was created by the church to help Christ-followers to prepare for Easter, and remind us Christians of the life and sacrifice of Jesus—specifically his 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert before he began his public ministry. (Read Luke 4:1-13 to get the whole story of that encounter.) Traditionally, Christians would fast daily until sundown, and they would give up all forms of meat–except for fish–on Fridays.
Lent is often perceived as a time of grueling self-sacrifice due to the whole fasting until sundown thing. Today, however, most of us just give up coffee or sweets. Tough life. Occasionally, though, Lent is taken as a more serious opportunity to combat habits like excessive consumption of food or alcohol, an addiction to pornography, or excessive spending of money. Whatever one decides, the goal behind the sacrifice is to prompt a time of prayer whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge in these activities. (e.g. If you normally go get a coffee at 10 am on Mondays, instead of buying a coffee, you spend those 15 minutes praying and reading scripture. Repeat as often as you get coffee.) It’s funny–well, kind of sad actually–but in my experience most people hear this challenge and are immediately intimidated by the idea of going without coffee for that long. Some people are legitimately addicted to coffee, and would be straight-up jerks for 40 days if they gave it up. To all of you who are in this position: by all means, keep drinkin’ the jo. I think Jesus would rather have us be able to love the people around us than try to observe Lent and be hurtful.
HERE’S AN IDEA, though. Lent doesn’t have to just be a somber time of sacrifice. It can also be a time of devoting ourselves to some new or different practice that also reminds us of Jesus. For example, I am a person who connects with God through music. So for lent last year, I decided to pick up learning how to play piano. I did my best to devote at least 30 minutes a day to sitting down and studying some aspect of the piano. Instead of dreading my bible and prayer time because it was a reminder of not being able to have something that I wanted, I looked forward to it because I was finally doing something that I had wanted to do for a while. Maybe for you this means getting into running or learning to crochet. The only suggestion I have is that it be something you can do while praying.
Now, to the people out there who are thinking, “Well, that’s not truly observing Lent because we are supposed to suffer like Jesus did,” I have news for you: WE ARE NOT JESUS. If you really want to be traditional with it, though, go ahead and give something up. I am all for challenging ourselves.
In fact, here is my challenge to you: Think of something you want to pick up over this season of Lent. Plan out when and where you will engage this activity, and try to do it at a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For most of us, this means not late at night or early in the morning. Give God your best time of the day. He deserves it.
Also, if you are someone who struggles with a more serious problem, like an addiction to pornography, alcohol, or excessive spending, it’s time to start working on it. I encourage you to take Lent as an opportunity to invite God and your community into these areas of your life. Find someone you can talk to about it. Make plans to avoid putting yourself in situations where you often fail, and, most importantly, when you find yourself wanting to engage in these activities, PRAY. Ask God to help you resist giving in. And have grace with yourself. You’re not perfect. Yet.
Finally, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment.
Chris Sherman, UMin Student Leadership Coordinator
When I stop to think about God’s calling on my life & discernment, I don’t necessarily have explicit moments where I know God was telling me what to do when I had a number of decisions placed in front of me. I think I can pretty much sum up God’s leading my path with one question: “why not?”
Let me unpack that. Honestly, like most college students, I spent quite a bit of my college experience trying to answer the question for myself, “what am I supposed to do with my life?” I’ve never been one to really stress about such questions, I have always kind of figured things would work themselves out, and they do seem to in one way or another. But, as graduation approaches there is the question that you begin to face from other people about what the next steps are going to be.
I am of the belief that God doesn’t only have one specific path for each of us to follow, but that God has a number of possibilities set out ahead of us. If we are pursuing a relationship with God, any of the options placed before us are journeys with God, living within God’s will. A mentor once advised me with a simple rule of thumb for making decisions and figuring out the answer to “what am I supposed to do?”…He said, when God gives you options, take the bigger risk. For me, the approach has been, which options is scarier? Okay, why not?
This has come into decision making at quite a few different points in my journey. Move to Tennessee (where I’d never been and knew no one) for an internship? Why Not? Pack everything up for graduate school in New Jersey? Why Not? Spend half a year in Kenya working in a slum? Why Not? Live in an Intentional Christian community in California? Why Not?
Obviously, there was quite a bit of prayer, conversation, and weighing multiple factors before making these decisions, so I don’t want to make it sound simple and easy. But, ultimately, my decision came down to knowing God was with me no matter where I ended up, and when that’s the case, asking why not is a pretty simple approach to decision making. I wouldn’t take back one of those decisions for anything.
There were certainly struggles, loneliness, difficulties, and burdens in all the parts of my journey, but I think that would have been true no matter what I did or where I was. God has promised to be faithful, and I have experienced that faithfulness every step along the way. The promise of Hebrews (and Deuteronomy) “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” has provided me with confidence to take risks and try out scary experiences because I KNOW God will be with me, guiding every step on the journey of, “what in the world am I supposed to do?”
Written by Janie
When I hear people talking about “God’s will,” I still tense up sometimes. I remember being a college student, trying my very best to follow Jesus and constantly seeking to find God’s mysterious and elusive will. You see, to me that phrase was tied to finding the one right path that would lead me to being the person God had created me to be. It meant that God had something great for me… And that it was my job to find it. I felt like the world God had created us to live in was one giant rat maze, and it was my job to find the one path that would lead to the “cheese.” (Cheese, of course, being a symbol of a fulfilled life). For you visual learners, my life looked something like this:
Prayers such as “God, what am I supposed to major in?” or “Where do You want me to live next year?” were commonplace. My hope was to get clear answers from God… “International studies and the dorms, Becky.” Sure, there might be two or three alternatives that were “ok” choices that God could use even though they weren’t the “right” choice, but most decisions I could make boiled down to being “wrong” choices – if they weren’t God’s perfect will, then they weren’t good enough. And if I made one wrong – or even less than perfect – choice, that would then affect each choice I made down the road. How would I get the “right” job if I pick the “wrong” major? I would have to start at the beginning of the maze again! I took Isaiah 30:21 quite literally. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Why was I not hearing that voice? Had I already made a wrong decision that got me off the path?
But as I grew in my faith and talked to mentors in my life, I learned that “seeking God’s will” was actually much more complicated than that and that it was not about making one right choice at each fork in the road. In fact, I began to realize that if I was seeking God in my life and truly making decisions that helped me live into my part of the greater body that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12, I could not make a wrong decision. It was like when I used to cheat at the mazes (you know – the ones on the place mats when you were a kid), working backwards from the end! (If you don’t know, that makes maze-solving a much simpler task).
My new paradigm starts with Christ. Seek God first and then each decision along the way becomes just that – a decision. I read the passage from Isaiah in a new light. I can go left or right and either way, God is with me, encouraging me to stay on his wide path.
Written by Becky
Has this ever happened to you? There is something in your life you need to “let go and trust God with.” So you begin to pray, possibly confess, acknowledging that God is ultimately in control and He is good. Then you stand there with your hands open, “releasing it” to the Lord, with all the trust and faith you can muster. You look up to the sky in thankfulness, only too look back down and realize you are still clenching that thing! White knuckles and a death grip!
What do you do? I would probably grunt in frustration. Lord, I thought I gave that to you…why is it still in my hands? I’d then try to pray again, to release it again, and again I would find myself clinging to it. Feeling frustrated, defeated and still burdened.
Back to that question from earlier, “What do you do?” I think that is where my problem begins, with the two-letter word, “do.” How can I give something up to the Lord, how can I trust Him more, what can I do? The answer to that question is probably “Be still and know that I’m God.” AKA, do nothing.
To be honest, doing nothing is hard. I don’t exactly know what that looks like. Perhaps as I focus on the Lord, He will grow and all else shrink. Perhaps my “thing” will eventually become just a crumb that will slip out of the palm of my hand.
I’m still wrestling with all of this. If you were hoping for answers I’ve got none. Just know you are in good company.
Lord teach us. Holy Spirit help us out. We need You. We love you.
It’s in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
By Annika L, UMin Coordinator
What are you thinking about right now?
Alright, let’s be honest for a moment. When someone is praying, we aren’t focused on what is being said 100 percent of the time. If you are anything like me, your mind travels a million miles and back during a 30 second prayer. I am not saying I don’t hear what is being prayed for, or that it is not important enough for me to pay attention to. I absolutely believe in the power and importance of prayer.
The thing I find interesting is where our mind goes during prayer. Usually something is said in prayer that reminds me of something I need to do. From there it is off to the races.
You know what I am talking about. It happens in all sorts of prayers.
There is the classic Sunday morning church prayer. At some point someone gets up to bring the needs of the congregation before God. No matter where you are in your faith, most people would agree that collective prayer for those in need is an important duty of the church. As a part of the congregation, you completely support this prayer, and agree with the things being said. As a 21st-century American, your mind is already processing what the next week is going to look like.
I should probably mow the lawn after church today. I need to pay my credit card bill. The Seahawks play at 1. Man, they are bad this year. Shoot! Did I get my fantasy football team in order this morning? I wonder if anyone will judge me for looking on my phone real quick. I shouldn’t have put cheese on my eggs this morning. How many times will I get to the gym this week?
Another example is the family gathering pre-meal prayer. I don’t know what your family is like, but when mine gets together, well, let’s just say I would bet that the Ark was less chaotic. (Noah’s ark that is.)
As everyone is showing up and commenting on how big the youngest member is getting (even if they are 22 now, and most likely have not grown in three or four years), someone decides to be the good Christian and requests that grace be said before eating.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am constantly humbled by the reality of how blessed I am. The simple fact that I am getting to sit down with people I love, and eat—something not everyone in this world will get to do today—is enough to stop me dead in my tracks and bring me to tears. However, when I am super hungry, and the smell of Grandma’s green bean casserole is filling the room, it’s hard to stay focused.
Which dish should I go for first? I bet the sweet potatoes are going to get eaten quickly, so I should probably get some of those first. I love crescent rolls. I hope Aunt Monica didn’t put coconut in the fruit salad this year. Who farted?
Oh the joys of family.
I don’t know if this is something everyone notices about themselves, but I am pretty sure I am not alone here.
I don’t really have any big profound point to make about all of this. Maybe it is a sign that we need to slow down sometimes, and remember what prayer is truly about. Or, more importantly, who we are praying to. Maybe it gives us some insight into our culture today. We have become so good at doing several things at once that we can’t focus on just one thing at a time. Maybe it’s inevitable that our minds wander through the webs of our understanding. I don’t know.
Just a thought.
Written by Chris S.