Almost four weeks ago, I stood before my new congregation dressed in all black and said the following words from The Book of Common Prayer:
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
Lent has been a meaningful time for me since I was first introduced to it as a student at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. It’s become a time where I pause, reset, and begin the journey towards the cross. I have often done what has become traditional for lenten fasting–giving up chocolate, caffeine, or only eating one meal per day. The year I gave up red meat, my wife Audra joined me and by the time Easter came, we were both sick of chicken.
This year, I have spent more of my Lenten time reflecting on the rhythms of my life. I love routine. I always have. It seems it is just part of my personality that I tend to fall into patterns of behavior. The danger is that if I am not careful, I can fall into patterns that are not particularly helpful to my own discipleship.
So, here we are, with only a few weeks left in Lent. Here are the patterns I am working on as I attempt to observe a holy Lent:
I want to be an early riser. This has been hurt in recent days by a bug on my iPhone that I was unaware of, but I am trying to make sure that I am up and going by 6 o’clock each morning. This is mostly so I can spend time with God through prayer and Scripture reading before my sons wake up because once they’re up, there isn’t a whole lot of quiet in our home and in my current assignment, any work I have to do on my computer or utilizing the internet has to be done in our home rather than at my church study.
I want to devote more time to reading the Bible. I recently listened to the “Watchword and Song” podcast with Dan Bohi, and I was impressed when Dan talked about how he devotes a tithe of his day to reading the Bible, so every day, he spends two and a half hours reading the Bible. While I’m not sure I could devote that same amount of time with my other commitments as a pastor and a father but I do sense the need to be a more devoted reader of the word.
I want to spend more time with my congregation. With my personality and gifts, I more easily identify with the pastoral roles of prophet and king. I love to preach and I love to lead. I even love the work of administration. My primary spiritual gifts are teaching and administration. I have always struggled with the pastoral role of priest. One of the ways I am trying to think through this is to think of my days as being divided into threes–mornings are for God, afternoons are for people, and evenings are for my family. This would mean spending more afternoons spending time with the people who call me pastor.
I want to spend more time with pre-Christians. One of the struggles for pastors is that so many demands are put on our time from regular congregational life that if we are not careful and intentional, it can become very easy for us to now have any relationships with people that do not know Jesus yet. I cannot ask my congregation to witness if I am not also doing the work of an evangelist, The solution I see to this problem is to spend some of those mornings with God out in the community. There’s both a local diner and a McDonald’s that I could go to to do some of my administrative tasks and sermon research and preparation.
I want to be healthier. My weight has always been a bit of a struggle but in high school, I was in relatively good shape. However, with the transition to college, I went from being a three-sport athlete to never working out and eating all of my meals at an all-you-can buffet. Instead of gaining the “freshman 15,” I gained the freshman 50. Without sports, I have just struggled to maintain healthy habits. There’s a gym here in town that I want to join and also make the time to actually go to. One of the things I realized on Ash Wednesday is that because of some more recent weight gain, none of my clerical shirts will button around my neck. Time to remedy that.
I want to be a better spiritual leader for my family. There have been different times where my wife and I have done devotions as a couple and other times where we’ve done devotions as a family, but we have never been particularly disciplined in either. I want to do better at leading my family in this. My greatest fear is that I would fail in my duty as a father to disciple my sons. I want them to grow up to love the triune God and the Church and to also know that they are more important to their father than the church is.
I want to be a more disciplined writer. It may be my pride talking but I think I have a voice that can be important if I am willing to use it. In seminary, I always struggled the most in classes that had a grade for participation included. To use an image one of my seminary professors used, I was better at allowing my sponge to fill up than wringing it out in discussion times. As an introvert, I would often be sure of what I wanted to say in a discussion a few minutes after the discussion had moved on from that topic. As an example, I have had this blog domain for years and yet have struggled to make the time to write for it. In the future, I want to spend more time writing.
Having written this all out for the first time, these seem like really big, lofty goals, but this is the type of person I believe God is calling me to be. Yes, there are other goals floating around in my head. I also want to gain the reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that I had in seminary that I’ve allowed to go to the wayside over the years. I want to spend more time this year watching Pirates games and keeping score in a scorebook I bought last season. I want to spend more time hunting and fishing. All those goals seem periphery to the core of who God is calling me to be, while the seven that I’ve outlined above seem essential.
What has observing a holy Lent looked like for you? What kind of person is God shaping you to be?