Special Events for Lent:
- Friday, March 25, 6 pm: Good Friday Worship Service
- Sunday, March 27, 9 & 11 am: Two morning Easter services; invite someone along!
Select some new habits and activities from the list below to try out during the next 40 days. We’ve compiled a list of Soul-Training Exercises from “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith to serve as a guide. They’re based on historic practices known as Spiritual Disciplines. For each one, we’ve included the Basic Practice, Extra Practice and Family Practices. Read through the list and see what stands out. Ask God to highlight certain ones. This is your Soul Training. May God awaken, encourage and empower you this Lenten season. Enjoy.
“We don’t have the power to make the sun rise, but we can choose to be awake when it happens. Spiritual disciplines help us stay awake.”
– Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey
Writing a Letter to God
No one is past redemption. All of us have the chance, no matter what we have done or where we have been, to change our minds, hearts and behavior, and to follow the wisest and most loving teacher who ever walked this earth. Each day, Jesus says to each of us, “Come, follow me.” If we say yes, we can be sure that a good and beautiful day awaits us.
Write a letter to God that begins with “Dear God, the life I want most for myself is …” The rest of the letter will complete this opening statement (or prayer). What would a good and beautiful life look like for you? Feel free to dream big. Let God in on your greatest hopes.
Ask a coworker or neighbor what their biggest hopes are for the next year. Ask to pray for them. Email, call or send a card of encouragement to someone you went to college with or grew up with – when dreams for the future seemed to come so much easier!
Invite your family to write their own letters and share them around the dinner table. Help your kids write or draw their own letters. Hang them on the fridge or make a family dream book.
Play is an act of self abandonment: we stop taking ourselves so seriously and simply enjoy life. When we play, we are training our bodies and souls to live with genuine excitement. That is what the kingdom of God is all about.
Play one of your favorite sports. Read a book about something new. Sign up for a class that interests you. Rent a funny movie, make popcorn and LAUGH!
Invite a neighbor or coworker to take a class, read a book or train for a race with you. Ask a tired mom or dad if you can take their kids out to play and give them a break. Organize an Easter egg hunt in your neighborhood.
Play with the children in your life (your own, nieces, nephews or grandchildren)! Do what they do (board games, sledding, video games). Get on the ground and wrestle! Pick one day each week to designate as your child’s day to plan all the activities.
God cares deeply about those who are left out. The kingdom is inclusive while the world is exclusive. Living in the kingdom of God involves hospitality – inviting and including others – because our King is a God of hospitality.
Listen to and pay attention people. Become aware of the people around you and their needs. Be a preparer – doing the little things that make people feel loved.
Reach out to someone outside your comfort zone. Ask if they want to have coffee or go out to lunch. Host a dinner for your neighbors. Take extra time to make your house look inviting from the curb – shovel the sidewalk clean, trim any bushes that hang into other yards or over the sidewalk, pick up trash. Write a note or send a gift card to someone outside your circle that you know is having a hard time.
Encourage your children to invite friends over after school. Make a special snack. Host a sleepover or play date and make it extra fun. Make your house the place where your children and their friends want to hang out!
Keeping the Sabbath
Sabbath forces us out of the role of God in our lives. Allowing God to take care of us, we relax and enjoy life. The sabbath is a gift to help us rest, trust and surrender control. It is a matter of joy and delight, not legalism and rule keeping.
Take time to plan a sabbath. When? Where? What? Eat a family meal. Play games. Eat great food. Nap! Set aside time for private prayer. Read your Bible.
Invite friends to join you for your meal. Volunteer to babysit to allow parents time to take a nap or have quiet time together. Ask a friend or spouse to read a devotional book or Scripture together. Pray for one another.
Have everyone turn in their phones or mp3s for a special family meal or for the entire Sabbath day. Turn off the TV. Ask your children to organize a family game of their choosing. Read the Bible together. Let your kids sleep in.
Free your mind from the junk that the media fills it with every day. Give some space to the Holy Spirit to renew your thinking.
Spend 48 hours fasting from the Internet, television, newspapers and magazines, radio stations, video games, iPods, mp3 players and stereos.
Pick one or more of the above to fast from for a longer period of time or for all of Lent. If you find yourself saying, “I could never give that up,” take that as your cue on where to begin!
Designate one day of the week as media-free. If you like alliteration, make it Monday! Incentivize reading. Go outside together. Play games. Can’t imagine life without media as a family, check out this and this and this.
If we do not speak, we cannot lie. We cannot gossip. We cannot hurt others with our words. So, we practice this discipline to help us have better control over our tongues.
Choose a day to be a “Lie-Free Day” where not even a small lie crosses your lips (use discretion if your spouse just got their haircut and wants an opinion!). Don’t swear or speak shortly to anyone for the day.
Go a day without speaking. Choose a day that works best for you. Let others know and communicate only when absolutely necessary! Charity overrides all discipline. Plan a silent retreat. Visit The Hermitage for more information.
Depending on the age of your children, set the timer and challenge your kids to a silent hour (or maybe 15 minutes is all you can do!). But explain to them the “why” behind it. Don’t use harsh language or speak negatively in front of your family or to any of them. Set up a “negative-free” or “lie-free” standard. You lead the way, moms and dads!
Praying for the Success of Competitors
Instead of retaliating, Jesus is asking us to bless those who harm us. He wants us to see those who are a threat to us in a different light.
Pray for the success of a competitor – anyone you are measured against or whose success in some way diminishes yours. It could be another parent, a coworker, another business owner or anyone who gets under your skin. Pray for them a few minutes each day. Pray for as many good things to happen to them as you can think of.
Invite that person out to lunch (maybe after you’ve been praying for at least a few days). Ask them questions, get to know their heart. Write the person an encouraging note (only if it’s genuine).
Invite your kids to identify and pray for their “enemies.” Talk about it and pray for and with them. Encourage them to invite one of them over or to do something kind for them.
We all want to have our good deeds noticed! This can ruin our acts of kindness and generosity, because our motive may be to be rewarded for what we have done. Positive appraisal can become more important than actually being good or doing well.
Do something, anything, to serve someone. Do the laundry, clean a room, fill up the car with gas – and DON’T TELL anyone! Spend a week looking for acts of service to do in secret. Leave quarters in vending machines. Pay for someone behind you in the drive thru.
Go big (and in secret) in your neighborhood or where you spend the most time. Bake treats and leave them at doorsteps. Write cards and tape them on front doors or cubicles when no one is looking. Meet specific needs of those living or working closest to you.
Develop a Family Secret Acts of Kindness plan. Get your kids in on it. Have them come up with ideas. Tell each other, but don’t let anyone else in on the plan! Check out this website for hundreds of ideas!
We need to examine the ways we spend money, how we think about possessions and see them in light of the kingdom of God. Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.
Give five things away that would be of some value to someone else – something that will be a blessing to someone else. If at all possible, give these possessions to someone you know.
Organize a toy clean-out day with your kids. Have them look through their things and think about what they could give away and to whom.
Once we have done all we can in a given situation, we simply turn the matter over to God and thus prevent worry from taking over. Prayer helps us realize that the provision of the kingdom of God is available to us in every circumstance. We also get to see things from God’s perspective, which puts our problems and concerns in a new light.
Each morning, set aside 10-15 minutes. Think of all the things you are anxious about and write them down. Ask yourself what you can do to remedy them. Make a note and turn them over to God in prayer. Write your request and be specific.
Set aside a day to pray and fast (from food!). Every time you feel hungry, turn your thoughts back to God. If there is something really significant you want/need to pray about, gather a group together to pray for you. Offer to pray for a stranger or someone who doesn’t know Jesus.
Have your kids write down every possible person or thing they want to pray about on popsicle sticks. Put them in a jar and have them each draw one to pray for at dinner and bedtime. Teach your kids how to journal and/or write/color down their worries. Pray on the way to school, pray before meals, pray when you hear sirens, pray for strangers, pray before bed – train their first response to be prayer!
A Day Without Gossip
The most pervasive (and “acceptable”) form of judgment is gossip. John Wesley once said, “Do unto another what you would not he should do unto you; and you will never more judge your neighbor … You will never mention even the real fault of an absent person.” We would help them, pray for them, ask to help them and stand with them, but we would never judge them.
Go one to three days without gossiping. Don’t mention the fault of anyone behind their back and stop those who do.
If you’ve had a recent conversation where you gossiped to someone, call them and ask forgiveness. Invite your closest friends to be in accountability with you – no one gossips. Give permission to each other to bring correction.
Don’t gossip in front of your kids (or ever!)! Create a “Gossip-Free” zone in your house. When your kids speak poorly of someone else, help them to reframe, “Why do you think that child would say or do that? Does that child know Jesus? Does that child have a hard life?” Create empathy. Buy and read, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”
Living One Day Devotionally
It is so easy to get distracted and walk blindly through our days one to the next. The only way to nurture our relationship with Jesus is to set our heart and mind on the kingdom of God. The fundamental building block of an apprentice of Jesus is living closely to Jesus in our ordinary lives.
End your day with the daily examen either alone or with a partner (spouse, friend, mentor).
Follow Madame Guyon’s How to Pass the Day Devotionally method a few different times throughout the week.
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour ( say 10 p.m.). You must be rested in order to awake and focus on God. A good day starts the night before.
- Turn your thoughts to God as soon as you awake. A key apprentice practice is setting our minds on things above, on having the right narratives and ideas about God. This is a great way to begin your day. You may want to say, “This is a day you have made for me, God, so I will rejoice and be glad in it. Be with me this day, and help me to trust in you for all that I do this day.”
- Spend a half hour in a time of devotion. This might mean getting up a half hour earlier than normal. Use this time to reflect on Jesus and the sacrifice he made for you and then offer yourselves to God in response.
- Set aside time to read a devotional book. There are dozens of great devotional books including “My Utmost for His Highest” or “Jesus Calling.”
- Turn to God in prayer throughout the day. Pause between activities for a few minutes to be still and turn your thoughts, cares and concerns to him. Pray Psalm 23 if nothing comes to mind.
- Set aside time to read the Bible. This doesn’t have to be an in-depth Bible study. Read a few verses a day and reflect on them – in between meetings or after lunch.
- End your day with a time of self-examination and prayer. Visit here for an easy step-by-step guide to the daily examen process.
- Don’t fall into legalism by trying to do it exactly like this! Focus on the spirit of the exercise, don’t turn it into law! And don’t conclude that you must do it every day. Spiritual tools are wise ways to live with God, not means to getting God to like us!
Set an alarm throughout the day to remind you and your children to stop and pray. Put a note in your child’s lunchbox or on the bathroom mirror or send them a text during the day to remind them of God’s love for them. Teach them a modified examen exercise. Pray with them through it at the end of the day. Let your children see you reading the Bible or devotional books. Let them see you praying. In the end, this devotional lifestyle will be caught, not taught.