Lent with intent by Stewart Perry
I try to balance my podcasts and audio book consumption. It is mostly church based or church aligned but I make sure that I also have some options unrelated to church or theology on a regular basis. Ironically it’s often in these non-church podcasts or audiobooks that I find myself thinking & reflecting the most theologically.
One of the podcasts I regularly listen to is called ‘The Howie Games’. You may have picked up that I’m a bit of a sports tragic & in this podcast, sports presenter & commentator, Mark ‘Howie’ Howard, interviews elite sports men & women from a range of different sports.
He has a number of constant topics & similar lines of questioning each episode. One of them is a question that goes something like this: “are you the type of athlete who it’s always come naturally to or have you had to work hard & grind it out to get to the top of your sport”. Invariably the answer is always the same, even the most natural looking sports people have had to put in extraordinary amounts of work & be incredibly disciplined to get to where they are.
It seems to me that after listening to most of his podcast episodes, that in order to look like it’s natural & takes no effort… it actually takes a whole lot of effort & an incredible amount of discipline.
I wonder if you’ve ever come across someone who just seems to be naturally spiritual. Who just seems to ooze the characteristics of a holy person? Well chances are, like the sports people interviewed on one of my favourite podcasts, this naturally spiritual or holy person didn’t just naturally become spiritual or holy, they had to be disciplined & work really hard to look like it comes naturally.
The reading that we always have to begin Lent with Ash Wednesday has a beautiful verse in it:
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:4)
Jesus is calling us to be naturally & authentically generous… but… do we just get there automatically, one minute we’re as self focused as the rest of them & then hey presto we are finding before our left hand knows it our right hand has been generous?
Maybe there’s a few exceptions as there is in most things, but I suspect for the vast majority of us, to look like we are a natural, we’re authentic & spiritual gifts come automatically takes a whole lot of practice.
In the church we call that practice the spiritual disciplines.
Discipline sounds like a punitive word but it’s the same word that forms the basis for discipleship. To be a disciple of Jesus, it takes discipline, lots of practice & getting it wrong much more often than getting it right.
In the reading for Ash Wednesday, Jesus highlights 3 of the spiritual disciplines: generosity, prayer & fasting but this is not an exhaustive list. I actually think that any human potentiality can become a spiritual discipline if we approach it with the right intent.
Doing the gardening, going grocery shopping, doing your day-job, watching the news, all of those things can become spiritual disciplines if we have intentionality about allowing those activities to deepen our identity in Jesus Christ.
You might be wondering what to give up or take up this Lent. There’s no right or wrong answer but just going through the motions or taking or giving up something because you think it’s the right thing to do, isn’t really going to lead to much growth or connection with God. Giving up chocolate in & of itself has never brought anyone closer to God… unless… by giving up chocolate, you have an intentionality about reminding or focusing yourself on the character of God each time you crave chocolate or pass the chocolate aisle in the supermarket.
Intent makes all the difference.
What difference would it make if we approached Lent with intent this year? Instead of just being tokenistic, what if we became intentional?
We may not become elite Christians in 40 days, I actually don’t think there’s such a thing, but in our intentionality & in our trying & failing & trying again we may just develop a character in ourselves that reflects the character of God & someone may look on what we do & say & be in awe at how it seems like God is naturally & authentically working through us.