Beyond fasting: 10 tips for a more meaningful Lent
A UMC.org feature by Joe Iovino*
Lent is a time for self-reflection and deepening one’s relationship with God in Jesus Christ. For many this season leading up to Easter will be weeks of giving up something they enjoy as a sign of contrition for mistakes they have made. Others will spend extra time in devotions and prayer, while a few more will carry a cross or nail in their pocket as a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for them and the whole world.
If those practices work for you, wonderful! Others may want to find different ways of observing this holy season. Consider adopting one or more of the following creative uses of the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
1. Apologize to someone
Lent is a season of repentance. Most often we think of asking God for forgiveness from our sin, but that is only half of the story. Most sins include hurting others, which mattered to Jesus. He taught that if during worship if you “remember that your brother or sister has something against you... First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 CEB). Lent is a great time to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed.
2. Perform random acts of kindness
Express your love for Jesus by loving others. Pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-through. Give an extravagant tip. Carry gift cards to give away. Ask others how they are doing, then stop and listen to their responses. Share the love of Jesus in any way you can think of each day during Lent.
3. Delve into a book of the Bible
Enhance your devotions by getting to know a book of the Bible well. Read it repeatedly, at least once in a single sitting. Find articles about it. Meditate on it with a commentary. Memorize portions of it. Pray through it. Google sermons about it. Find hymns based upon it. In the six weeks of Lent, you could develop a deep understanding of a book of the Bible about which you have always been curious.
4. Serve people in need
Identify an organization with which you would like to participate. Sign up and get trained. Then volunteer to serve throughout the season of Lent. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, he taught that we are called not to be served, but to serve (John 13:1-17).
5. Visit the lonely
Jesus also taught his disciples to treat others as we would treat him. This included visiting those who are sick and in prison (Matthew 25:31-36). Talk to a local nursing home about washing wheelchairs, or a children’s hospital about visiting with parents of patients. Volunteer with a prison ministry, senior center, or any other place where people need some human contact. Play games, tell stories, look at photo albums, and enjoy those about whom Jesus said, “when you have done it for [them], you have done it for me.”
6. Read Wesley’s sermons about the Sermon on the Mount
These 13 sermons (available online) are central to the message of John Wesley. They make up a little more than one-quarter of the fifty “Standard Sermons” he gave to his Methodist lay preachers to teach them “the essentials of true religion" (“The Sermons of John Wesley – An Introduction”). Reading these sermons will have you focused on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and give you a sense of what it means to be a United Methodist in the tradition of John Wesley.
7. Tell others you love them
Some of us struggle to say those three little words. Maybe we assume others already know how we feel. Maybe we think we show our love and don’t need to say it. Or maybe we are concerned it won’t be reciprocated. Fight the fear and say "I love you" to friends, family members, and everyone else you love at least once during the season.
8. Throw a party for everyone
Jesus often used the image of a party to describe the Kingdom of God. He talked about wedding receptions and banquet feasts, and participated in several large group celebrations. Host your own Kingdom party by cooking for the neighborhood, or buying lunch for the entire office or your church. Feed everyone you can and give people an opportunity to be together.
9. Serve in worship
Your church needs you. Sing in the choir, usher, serve as a reader, work with the tech team, help a young family with their baby, or find some other way to serve your church. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to use your God-given gifts. Offer yourself in service to your church for the season.
10. Say “thank you”
Parents, family members, mentors, coaches, teachers, authors, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and others have shaped you into the person you are. Each week during Lent, send a note of gratitude to one of them. Tell them how much they meant to you and how they inspired you. Consider including a small gift. Even if you do not know that author or speaker personally, draft an email of thanks.
There are many ways to be observant during Lent. Be original. Find yours.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at email@example.com or 615.312.3733.
This story was originally posted on February 23, 2015.