Ash Wednesday: The Time of Preparation Begins by R. Scott Rodin Ph.D.
This blog post falls one of the most important day in the Christian church calendar, Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of a forty day preparation time leading up to holy week and the culminating celebration of Easter Sunday. This time of preparation is referred to as Lent and it is marked traditionally by focus on three spiritual discipline; fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
Regardless of your church tradition, as steward leaders this special time in our church year can provide us with a focus and depth that may be difficult to find in other seasons. I believe there is an inspiration and challenge for us in each of these three spiritual disciplines as we join hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters around the world in walking this journey to the cross and empty tomb.
A Time of Fasting
What does fasting have to do with being an effective steward leader? Well, let’s look at it from both the standpoint of form and function. Functionally, the purpose of fasting is to remove distractions between us and God so that we may know His presence and enter into greater intimacy with Him. Fasting is less about what we give up or the vacuum it creates, and more about how we fill that empty place.
As leaders we are surrounded with distractions. By distraction I mean both the extraordinary and the normal, daily routine things that continually fill our calendars to overflowing. Some of these are put on us by others, but the majority are habits and actions we choose to do ourselves. That is, we have more control than we may think over the activities that overwhelm our days.
When we make a commitment to set something aside to create space for a deeper experience with God, we will be surprised by how many options we have. I had a friend who took a Lenten media fast. He did not read the newspaper, watch a news program or look at news outlets online for forty days. He discovered two things. First he was amazed at how much time was freed up in his schedule for devotion, meditation and prayer. The second was how little had changed in the world after forty days.
What about the form of a fast? We traditionally think of abstaining from food for some period of time, or removing certain foods from our diet. While this is effective, I would challenge us as steward leaders to fast from things in our current life to which we invest time with questionable return. That is, a Lenten fast can be a great time to identify things in our life that can significantly unclutter our schedules. They just might also turn out to be longer-term lifestyle choices.
If you are spending too much time on the Internet, obsessed with your Twitter or InstaGram account, Lent is a great time to fast from one of these and see what you learn. If you struggle with pride, take a fast from fame. Ask God to show you where and how you do things to bolster your reputation or increase your influence, and fast from them. In their place, read through a devotional on humility. Be open to the Holy Spirit in choosing your fast and see if you aren’t led to a time of fasting that can free you from bondage and give you new room to breathe in God’s presence.
A Time of Almsgiving
Almsgiving is an old term that simply means to share from the heart. The root of God-honoring almsgiving is generosity. Again the ‘what’ is not as important as the ‘why’. Could you use Lent to enhance a culture of generosity at your place of work? While fasting focuses us inward, almsgiving focuses us outward.
As leaders, our people will follow our lead and example when it comes to generosity. In a real way, your organizational culture is shaped by your own attitudes and commitments. To cultivate a culture of generosity, set aside these forty days and explore with your team what such a culture would look like. What would sound and feel different about that culture from the one you have now? How would it start, what changes would have to occur and who would have to be involved? Would you be willing to consecrate Lent for this purpose?
It starts in your own heart. Each of us must examine our lives and see where a spirit of greed has crept in. We must do the same with and for the people we lead. Ministries, organizations and institutions can have cultures controlled by greed and the belief that money is the driver of ministry. Both as leaders and as organizations we must be honest about our attitudes that cause us to seek our security in earthly things rather than God alone.
You cannot harbor a greedy spirit and find your security in earthly thing and expect a generous heart to develop in you or your people. Start with confession and repentance then move to embracing the disciplines that will lead to a culture of joyous generosity. That is a worthy Lenten journey that may change your organization, and you well beyond Easter.
A Time of Prayer
Finally, one idea for focusing on prayer for Lent is to follow the example of Brother Lawrence and practice the presence of God. This wonderful man of God taught us that there is no greater joy than experiencing the presence of God every minute of life. Brother Lawrence challenges us as leader and workers in God’s kingdom,
“At the beginning of my duties, I would say to the Lord with confidence, ‘My God, since you are with me and since, by your will, I must occupy myself with external things, please grant me the grace to remain with you, in your presence. Work with me, so that my work may be the very best. Receive as an offering of love both my work and all my affections.’ During my work I would always continue to speak to the Lord as though He were right with me, offering Him my services and thanking Him for His assistance. Also, at the end of my work, I used to examine it carefully. If I found good in it, I thanked God. If I noticed faults I asked His forgiveness without being discouraged, and then went on with my work, still dwelling in Him.”
This Lent, practice the presence of God in everything you do. In this way you will learn to pray unceasingly without even thinking about it.
Steward leaders have a unique opportunity during Lent to highlight for their people these three disciplines essential to Christian faith, life and work. Immerse yourself in meaningful fasts, sacrificial almsgiving and intimate prayer in the daily presence of God and watch God work in you and through you in extraordinary ways during these forty days of Lent.
 Brother Lawrence, Practice the Presence of God. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982, p. 81.
R. Scott Rodin Ph.D. has been in not-for-profit leadership and consulting for twenty-five years. He has served as counsel to over 100 organizations across the country and in Canada and Great Britain including colleges, seminaries, schools, churches, para-church ministries and other not-for-profit organizations. Visit his blog at Kingdom Life Publishing.
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