By Amy Thompson
Well, Missouri Methodists, we are entering the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days prior to Easter, excluding Sundays. It begins with Ash Wednesday. If you have attended an Ash Wednesday service then you know that the minister will mark the sign of a cross using ashes on your forehead. Part of Ash Wednesday is remembering that our lives are a gift from God which the ashes remind us of. Lent is a time to repent. We turn our lives toward Christ in a more focused intentional way over the next 40 days.
My perception of Lent as a child and young adult was a time period that you give up something that you really like to show that you love God. My 40 day commitment consisted of giving up things like chocolate, Dr. Pepper and a TV show. The Lenten season became more meaningful the year a pastor challenged me to not worry so much about what I was giving up but to focus on what I could add to my life that would enhance my relationship with God. I have continued that focus over the years. I find Lent is a time that I can draw closer to God typically through prayer and word.
In John Wesley’s early years, his participation in the Holy Club was focused on disciplines, actions that build connection with God and helps us understand God’s grace for us. Wesley expressed these disciplines as the means of grace, both Works of Piety and Works of Mercy. Works of Piety consist of acts that show our love of God, like prayer, fasting, accountability, scripture, worship, communion and personal evangelizing. Works of Mercy consist of acts that show love of neighbor, like serving the poor and needy, social justice, and doing good works. Practicing these disciplines leads you to connect with other followers and leads to strengthening your relationship with God.
For this Lenten season, I would like to challenge the laity of the conference to join together in a common focus and strengthen your relationship with God. Make a 40 day commitment to join in a common prayer and see how the Spirit leads you.
One of the first steps we can take is preparing our own hearts to receive the people that God sends our way. By sharing in the I’m Ready prayer from Purple Fish by Mark O Wilson, you can take this first step. This prayer will guide you to receive people just as they are and to share the love of Jesus Christ with them. Starting your day with this prayer will open your heart to new ways of experiencing the people you encounter. Saying this prayer will provide a way for you to connect with others and draw you into a deeper relationship with God as you listen for the promptings of the Spirit.
My energy and excitement rises as I think about the impact this prayer could have in the churches and communities in our conference. If we could have hundreds, even thousands, of people lifting up this prayer daily for 40 days we would make a difference in our communities. We would be taking a step together to live out God’s great commandments, loving God and loving others. To quote the end of chapter 4 of 1 John from The Message translation—Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.