I hope that your Bible reading is going well, and welcome to those of you who have just joined The Bible Challenge.
Today is Ash Wednesday – one of only two days in the Episcopal Church calendar (along with Good Friday) where the Church encourages us to fast (eat very lightly and drink more fluids) – and a special day in the life of the Church, especially for each of us making a spiritual journey.
I like Lent. I must shamelessly confess that I like self-improvement. It is satisfying to do something to improve oneself, whether it be exercising more, learning a new language, taking art classes, practicing yoga or reading great books.
Lent is a season for spiritual self improvement. It is a time to go deeper and not live on the surface of life. Most of us could benefit from putting our spiritual life more front and center for 40 days. Perhaps Lent should be year-round. After all, we don’t eat healthily or exercise only for 40 days of the year and then neglect our body for the remainder of the year. If we did, the results would be devastating.
By participating in The Bible Challenge you are already taking on a major spiritual challenge. God honors your prayerful reading of the Bible each day. As you let God’s Word seep into you, as you ponder its message and meaning, the Word slowly and quietly transforms you. The mind that was in Christ Jesus is now in you.
Reading the Bible helps us to feel calmer and more centered. God’s Word knits together the frayed nerves that come from ceaseless activity, constant stress and chronic worries.
Traditionally, we take on a spiritual discipline or give up something for Lent. Do not be like that man who told his bishop that he had given up white chocolate for Lent. Jesus did not fast and pray and combat the devil in the wilderness for 40 days and nights so that we might trivialize Lent.
If Christians are to have a contagious faith and stand for anything, our lives must be somewhat extraordinary. Our morals, the ways that we spend our time and money, and the tasks to which we apply our best energies should be noticeably different. They should be purer, better and more selfless. We have a high calling.
Here are two brief suggestions for Lent. Memorize a verse of the Bible each day. Order some Bible flash cards or write down a Bible verse each day and carry it with you. Take it with you in the car. Place it on your desk or on the kitchen counter. Commit it to memory.
By the end of the day you will have carried the Word with you throughout the day. You will have internalized God’s Word. It will be part of you. One day it will come to mind when most needed, and it will guide and comfort you or you may offer it to a friend, stranger or loved one as a spiritual bouquet to brighten his or her day.
This will be my spiritual Lenten discipline. If you would like to join me, you can order “Bible Verses” (1,000 Bible flash cards) from Visual Education, P.O. Box 1666, 581 West Leffel Lane, Springfield, OH, 45501 or call 1-800-243-7070 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or order a book called Great Verses from the Bible by calling 1-610-933-7543.
This fall I attended a Bible conference in Florida. The Rev. Rick Warren was one of many fabulous speakers. Rick runs an enormous church called The Saddleback Church in California and is author of The Purpose Led Life. He surprised me when he said, “The number one spiritual tool by far in my life and ministry is Scripture memorization. I use it every day, and it has transformed my life and ministry.” You won’t find many Episcopalians saying that, but undoubtedly we could benefit from it.
Second, add some prayer to your Bible reading. Before you begin reading, set yourself in the presence of God. Sit quietly and invite God’s Spirit to speak to you as you read God’s Word. Ask God to give you wisdom to sort out what is extraneous in what you read and to help you uncover the spiritual gold that God has awaiting you.
Close by offering prayers for those that you know are in need. Hold them in God’s healing light. Offer a simple prayer of adoration and praise to God. God enjoys our appreciation, and praise transforms our soul. Thank God for a few of your countless blessings. Then ask God to use you effectively to touch the lives of others today.
Pray your schedule: ask God to be with you as you eat lunch with a friend, visit with a colleague, make a major decision or spend family time. Ask God to help you to be emotionally present to each person you spend time with today.
Finally, lay before God your deepest need or needs for this day. Then sit in silence and let God communicate God’s love, care and wisdom for you this day. Let Lent be a time of rich blessing for you. Trust in your heart that God will honor whatever Lenten discipline you commit to and use it to draw you closer to God who is already closer to you than you are to yourself.
With every blessing,