As we near the beginning of the Lent, it may be good to get reacquainted with God’s math. For example, two people can become one in marriage and five loaves of bread and two fish can feed 5,000 people. It should come as no surprise that, in God’s economy, less can provide more than anyone can imagine. Lent is a wonderful opportunity to invite God to use what we believe to be meagre and ask the Lord to use it to bless many.
Lent traditionally is the forty-day period before Resurrection Day (Easter). After participating in Lenten activities, you may be in a quandary regarding how to make Lent special this year. Thankfully, revisiting the ancient church practices during Lent can renew our faith and rekindle the special relationship that we have with Jesus Christ. Historically, Lent has been a time of penitent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; of the three, prayer often gets more attention.
Make Lent Special This Year
This year, make Lent special. Why not choose to make a difference in at least one family’s life through financial and other assistance? It is easy to do with an emphasis on fasting and almsgiving.
So many worthwhile causes compete for our attention: the brutal winter has pressed the poor, into forced-choice decisions—pay for heat or pay to eat. We want to help, but we often complain that we lack the necessary resources to offer meaningful help.
But what if you could produce a surplus of time and money that could be used to help others? Where, you may ask, would this extra time and money come from? The surplus can come from what we amass through fasting and abstinence.
A Sober Lesson from Clean Sweep
A few years ago, a popular show called Clean Sweep aired on The Learning Channel. In each episode, the show host—accompanied by a professional organizer, interior designer, carpenter, and a cast of helpers—helped reclaim two rooms from the human disaster of excess clutter. The most intriguing parts of the show were the heart wrenching scenes in which the homeowner(s) had to decide what to keep, sell, or trash.
As an incentive for making these choices, the show matched all the money earned from selling the items. This money was then used to redecorate and organize the two former disaster areas.
Not so subtly, the show pointed out that we Americans generally do not lack the resources to help others. What we lack is the spiritual incentive to do so. That is where fasting helps.
Imagine the Impact of a Simple Fast
Imagine the joy of helping a family pay the rent or a utility bill. Imagine helping an elderly person pay for much needed prescription medication. Imagine your congregation making a difference in people’s lives in your community. If one disciple in your church fasted a meal a day that normally costs $3, that individual could offer over $20 a week toward a designated ministry effort. If fifty people did likewise, the church would have more than $1,000 of benevolence funding available.
Invite your congregation to consider fasting and redirecting the money to help someone this Lenten season. This type of self-sacrifice for others enriches the fasting experience and deepens the missional character of the congregation.
Encourage your congregation to pray specifically about what your church could do to reach out to others through almsgiving during the Lenten season. The alms could come in the form of finances or time (people may fast some TV).
Learn about Fasting from the Ancient Church
According to Byzantine tradition, the Lenten discipline of fasting is threefold:
- Corporal or External Fast – This includes abstinence from certain foods, drink, and amusements. (Today we might consider abstinence from certain forms of entertainment.)
- Spiritual or Internal Fast – This consists of abstinence from “all evil” – i.e. sin.
- Spiritual Renewal –This is achieved by the practice of the virtues and good works.
Churches in the Wesleyan family may find it helpful to review part of the core principles of their founder John Wesley, who urged people to “Do no harm, do good, and attend to all the ordinances of God”.
Why not participate in God’s math this Lenten season and rediscover that less is more in God’s hands.