Tag Archives: fasting

Prayer & Fasting: When Flawed Humans Follow Jesus

The apostle Peter is one of my favorite people in the Bible. He reminds me of me. Following Jesus is not always easy for me; from the very beginning, Peter seems to have experienced a similar sense of struggling as he sought to follow. Peter was a searcher with a good heart. He stumbles but tries his very best to follow. He’s always open to growing in his relationship with Jesus, even if that growth involves some pain. Peter was full of emotion, giving himself completely to Jesus at one moment, but then fearfully retreating from Jesus the next.

In Matthew 16:13-16, we read, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'” (NIV)

What did Peter proclaim about Jesus? But now in Matthew 16:21-22, we see, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!'” How is Peter responding now?

Peter was genuine in all of his interactions with Jesus. He boldly declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16), and then immediately questioned and chastised Jesus for talking about the suffering that lay on the horizon (Matthew 16:22). That last bit may have been bumbling and inappropriate, but it was genuine. Peter genuinely offered Jesus his entire being – the good and the bad. 

We read about these contrasts between the good and bad sides of Peter throughout the gospels. He simply didn’t always know what it meant to follow Jesus. When Peter witnessed the astonishing event of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, all he could think to do was to offer to build shrines, places for each of them to live. (Matthew 17:1-11, Mark 9:2-9, Luke 9:28-36). When he sees Jesus walking on the water, he boldly climbs out of the boat, seemingly full of confident faith, yet when the wind and waves appear too much, he flounders in fear. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Washing another person’s feet was a common way of expressing hospitality and servanthood in the first century. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet on the night he was arrested. (John 13:1-9) When it was Peter’s turn, he felt completely unworthy, so he declined. And yet, when Jesus responded that it was necessary in order for Peter to be a part of him, Peter’s love poured forth: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, NRSV)

Peter genuinely desired to follow Jesus, even if he didn’t always know exactly what that meant; and he was willing to offer his entire self, even his shortcomings.

 The question for each of us is, how willing are we to offer our entire selves to God – including our shortcomings?

Peter was willing to offer Jesus his entire self – shortcomings and all – because intuitively he knew that Jesus had created safe space between them. His intuition was correct. Jesus had created safe space, because Jesus understood Peter. Jesus knew how truly human Peter was. He knew that deep down in his heart, Peter desired to follow him, even though Peter’s understanding and capabilities were dramatically limited.

Jesus knew Peter well enough to call him the rock upon which he would build his church (Matthew 16:17-19); yet also knew him well enough to predict accurately that before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny three times that he even knew him at all. (Mark 14:26-31)

We are all like Peter. We too are truly human, with all of the frailties and limitations that brings. Just as he understood Peter, Jesus also understands us. Jesus knows that there are times when we want to follow; there are other times when we choose to shy away. But Jesus’ call to Peter was to follow, not at a distance—not in the shadows, afraid of what might happen next—but to move into the light and follow boldly, whatever came his way.

This is Jesus’ call to us as well. Jesus knows how limited our resources are. He knows that life is full of choices, temptations, and complex situations where we become confused and frightened. Yet he desires our faith to be real and authentic, and so he calls us to follow him anyway, closely, not at a distance. 

We are in the midst of Lent, working our way toward the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. As you fast and pray, reflect on the idea of a “safe space” between you and God. Do you sense the safety of that space? If not, I pray you will use your time of prayer to bring that experience honestly before God, opening yourself to the movement of the Holy Spirit in response to your need.

Jesus would go on to say, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25, NLT)

During this next month, use your time of prayer and fasting to become more aware of the ways in which Jesus may be calling you to step out of the boat. And then step out in courage, knowing that Jesus understands that you are fully human, with all the frailties and limitations (but also with all the creativity and boldness) that brings.

Join the World Methodist Evangelism Prayer and Fasting Community here.

Adapted from original publication at World Methodist Evangelism; used with permission.

Featured image courtesy Emiliano Arias via Unsplash.

Lenten Love: Make Things Better

The Lenten season has started. Lent is six weeks (excluding Sundays) dedicated to prayer, fasting, and reflection to prepare for the grand celebration of Christ conquering death and his resurrection.

When I think of Lent, I am reminded that Easter is coming. We will soon celebrate the victory of Jesus over death through his resurrection and the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who believe in him. In light of this, this Lenten season invites us to a particular time of reflection about our relationship with God and how we practice what we say we believe. As we are reminded of the meaning and purpose of our faith, we are also confronted with the realization that we may not be living up to the expectations of Jesus’ teachings.

Are we living up to Jesus’ teachings? Are we there yet? If you are like me, then you are far from it. We are trying; we stumble now and then, but we are not in denial, and we are making progress, even if it is just a little bit every day. With this in mind, I invite you to a serious and responsible self-reflection about how you are living your faith, but most importantly, how your relationship is with God and with one another.

Henri Nouwen described Lent as a time to refocus, to reenter a place of truth, to find ourselves in God once again. This is precisely what I want us to do this Lenten season: to find our place in God and affirm our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin with a simple question: how are you observing Lent?

Are you fasting, reading Scripture, praying? Great! That’s what the church traditionally has done for many centuries. Lent is a time of faith renewal as much as it may be a time of reconciliation with God. Fasting, reading Scripture, and praying are means of grace that help us be strong in our faith and close to God. So if you are practicing this, that is wonderful; keep doing it!

Today’s challenge is to go beyond a personal renewal of our faith and reconciliation with God. What if we commit to practice our faith to make the world better: more loving, more kind, compassionate, truthful, and empty of hate and evil? What if we show our faith to others in ways that make life better for them? What if we are a tangible blessing to others?

One of the most prominent critiques I make is that often, we are primarily known for what we are against than for what we offer. Our faith is more about how we make things better for all people, just like Jesus did. With this in mind, here is an idea of how we can observe Lent this year. The reading from Romans 12:9-21 using The Message translation encourages us like this:

Don’t fake your love, be real. Run away from evil; cling to good. Be good friends who love deeply. If you see someone in need, do something about it. Don’t be a cause for others to trip over but bless those even when they disagree with you. Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Discover beauty in everyone. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do, but be generous in your goodness to all people. And last, don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

As you can see, in this Scripture, Paul describes how Christians are to love each other and how we are to engage in our relationships with others. Paul explains that Christian behavior is doing everything for all people’s common good.

Our text doesn’t just say, “Love others more,” but it describes specific behaviors for loving others that Jesus himself modeled. This helps us see that Christian love is not just being nice to people; Christian love has a moral orientation toward the good. When we show love toward someone, we are moving them toward God’s goodness, so they too may find themselves in God. That is what Christian witness is, both during the Lenten season and throughout the year.

Since our faith is less about what we don’t do and much more about how we make things better for all people – just like Jesus did – let’s make part of our Lent resolutions to bring people to Jesus by practicing genuine love and showing generous goodness.

Featured image courtesy Ante Gudelj on Unsplash.


How to Pray in Active Waiting

I am horrible at waiting. I don’t always hate waiting itself, but I have expectations. When something is not done in the timeframe I expect, I get an attitude — and keep waiting.

Right now, we are all waiting for the pandemic to pass. Social distancing, quarantining, and staying home are taking a toll on many of us. How do we endure the wait?

One of my best lessons about waiting came from learning how to grill a steak properly. For me, a perfect steak is medium well — just a hint of pink.

The first time I grilled steak, it was a disaster. It appeared to be just right — the juices were bubbling, the grill marks were there, and it smelled divine. Then I cut into it — it was blood-red and cold to the touch. Not one who is easily defeated, I talked to some seasoned grillers. They all suspected the same thing: the heat was too high.

“You have to wait for a steak to come to perfection. The high heat cooks it deceptively,” one of the grillers told me.

“It looks ready on the outside but is still raw on the inside. High heat cuts down the wait time, but it does not thoroughly cook the meat.”

I didn’t like hearing I was impatient.

Waiting isn’t bad; it can be a time of renewal. In Isaiah 40:31, Scripture tells us, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Being renewed gives you strength for the journey. But sometimes, I find myself getting tired, because I am working to do what God said he would do, instead of waiting on God.

Earlier this year, I ran my first 5k race. I trained for the race, but halfway through, I found myself a little tired. However, when I saw the finish line, something happened to my weary body — I got a second wind. I didn’t even stop to take pictures with the signs of famous women along the route. I just kept running, going around people, staying focused on finishing. When I get tired of waiting, I imagine God renews my strength, just like my strength was renewed when I saw the finish line. Waiting is always part of the process.

Waiting is about preparing for what is to come. Get ready for what you request! Instead of watching my steak, pressing it down, or flipping it too soon, I left it alone. Instead, I set the table and put out the side dishes for the meal.

Invest in your waiting. I have petitions before God. While waiting, I fast and pray not just for my requests but also for others’ requests. On Fast for Your Future Tuesday, I fast and pray with people, believing God for answers.

Wait well. Learn how to praise God for what you are waiting for. Offering gratitude for what you cannot see may be a challenge. But praising God can change your attitude and perspective.

Are you praying for something? Do you have a request before God? Don’t get discouraged if you are tired of waiting. Just wait —the answer is on the way. Sometimes, waiting is easier said than done, but I am always encouraged by what David says about waiting in Psalms 27:13-14: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Don’t be impatient, like I was with the steak. Wait on the Lord. Because just like I waited for the steak to cook properly, you will be glad you waited for God to give you or send you the perfect answer.

Featured image: “Waiting” by Nicholas Roerich, 1927

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Prayer for the Raw & Ragged

Breath of Life,
You humble us with the piercing memory of a man six years ago begging to be treated with dignity: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
He spoke the truth; we were busy.
And now we’re all struggling to breathe.
Some on ventilators.
Some in panic.
Some in stale rooms we didn’t choose, didn’t plan to inhabit
hooked up to the life support of Wi-Fi.
We need your Breath of Life.

We need your Breath of Life, your Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Breath of Life,
we wait and watch (what else can we do?)
gathered in our upstairs rooms
by ourselves
or with two or three
away from Dan or Karen or Dave
with them in worship
as we use our air to sing together on Sundays
while the internet strains to take it all.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on us gathered
and there
a mighty rushing wind,
a theophany of fire on the heads of women and men, young and old, day laborer and C-suite.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on these gifts –
what gifts are in our pantries?
What can we bring you from empty store shelves,
from online stores crushed from the weight of inventory of others’ worry?
Pour out on these gifts – what do we have to bring you?
Bread and wine? Juice?
It has not always been so:
some find you’ve made rice be for them the Body and Blood.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your mighty rushing gifts poured out on our scraps:
stale end pieces of dried bread; instant rice; canned biscuit dough near expiration.
We don’t want to give you this.

We wanted to give our best – our best foot forward, a good vintage, a rich bread.

We don’t want to give you this – a rigged ventilator adapted for two; cloth face masks needing nightly bleaching; Hefty bag hospital gowns.

We wanted to present our best side – our best foot forward, a royal tour of a new hospital wing, a display of how your major gift was put to use, your name on the gleaming building.

we believed we could breathe on our own
our own steam
our own will
our own can-do spirit.
we thought giving our best
was how the Wind came.

You’ve known otherwise.
You always have.
You have poured your mighty rushing gifts on
old technology
illiterate minds
stale bread crusts
empty cupboards.

It’s always been your Breath we borrowed.
It’s always been Breath of Life
infusing frailty
trading waste for life
one breath at a time.

And that is all we have, Breath of Life:
one breath at a time.
My bread will be here today, gone soon in hungry bellies.
I don’t know what store will have what goods – flour or yeast or bread, or not.
We can give you what is in our pantry
That is all.
That has always been all.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
prompting us, preparing us for the moment
when we would stare at crusts and apple juice,
at rigged ventilators and make-shift masks,
at rice and water
and say

we want to give you this.
It’s all we have.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
so that you could pour out Your Holy Breath
in sight of us all
on everything that embarrasses us in its stale dryness.

We believed we could breathe on our own. But our breaths do not belong to us.
We need your Breath of Life:
the Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Pour out your Holy Wind on us gathered
and there.
Pour out your mighty, rushing gifts.
Speak the truth; we are not too busy.
We need your Breath of Life.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Tammie Grimm ~ Keeping the Feast and the Fast

It is Easter. Alleluia! Or, more properly, it is Easter-tide. Palm fronds saved from Sunday’s service a few weeks ago are woven homemade crosses drying on the kitchen windowsill or (in my case, on the pile of mail stacked on my desk). The signs and symbols of Lent and Holy Week – along with the bins of empty plastic eggs – are packed up as we savor the last morsels of Easter chocolate many of us denied ourselves for lo those 40 days. Refreshed by caffeine enjoyed anew with gusto, we put decorations into storage till next year’s Lenten fast returns and we begin the ritual again by asking ourselves, “What to give up for Lent this year?”

To be honest, I did not give up chocolate or caffeine for Lent this year. Or last year for that matter. And as long as I have plans to travel to England during Lent I will not give up chocolate or caffeine as my Lenten discipline. I will not purposefully cut myself off from the widely available British treat of chocolate-covered digestives with a cuppa Yorkshire tea during my travels. But traveling hasn’t stopped me from being more creative and circumspect about my choice of fast. This year I fasted (with varying degrees of struggle and success) from dependency on social media, so that I might grow more mindful of my dependence upon God.

For the last several weeks, I have contemplated the rhythms of fasting and feasting as a part of Christian discipleship. How does the experience of fasting help shape us when we finally break it and enjoy the feast? In what ways are our daily lives punctuated by choices we make to abstain from certain pleasures so we might be more conscious of our need for God? And, conversely, how do we share the joy we receive in the presence of God with one another so we seek to extend it further into our communities? How and why should fasting and feasting be a part of our discipleship, our way of living that is meant to help us grow in Christlikeness?

While in England, I had the opportunity to read the manuscripts of early Methodist pioneer Mary Bosanquet Fletcher housed in the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester. Having taken requisite Methodist history classes in seminary, I knew Mary Fletcher was the first woman John Wesley permitted to preach in the 1770s. Later, she became the wife of John Fletcher, who is often considered the theologian of the Methodist movement. They were married for four years before his death and she continued their ministry in the same parish for the next 30 years before her death. Her journals, diaries, private thoughts, and letters embody the largest collection of Methodist papers in existence with the sole exception of John Wesley’s papers. Though I had research purposes relating to my doctoral thesis, the experience of reading her handwriting ministered to my heart and soul in ways I never could have imagined.

It wasn’t the words that Mary Fletcher used that illustrated something fresh to me about discipleship. It was the ebb and flow of her journal entries among the occasions she regularly recorded over the decades. There were times in which her entries were considerably more sparse contrasted by other times in which her entries were especially numerous.

But without fail, on holy days, significant birthdays, and anniversaries, she journaled about her experiences in private prayer, public worship and the holy conversation she had with persons she knew through her ministry. Journaling was an indelible feature of Mary Fletcher’s life. Other writing projects she authored and published for the Methodist movement may have diverted her from her personal journaling at times, but I am convinced that journaling was as much a part of her discipleship as Bible study, regular Eucharist, tithing, and participating in regular class and band meetings.

The spiritual disciplines help us establish a way of living our lives for Christ. Mary Fletcher, like John Wesley, called spiritual disciplines “means of grace,” which are the regular things we do as Christians that open us up to God’s grace and the activity of the Holy Spirit in this world. Discipleship is living in those daily moments, submitting ourselves regularly to God so divine grace can make us more Christlike.

Holy fasts and holy feasts are special events which offer perspective to the ordinary everyday. Fasts and feasts ebb and flow throughout the year to help transform the everyday experience. These holidays (or holy-days) highlight our regular disciplines, transcending them from the daily fabric of our existence, which in turn gives back to the ordinariness of our lives as we grow in Christlikeness.

There are times I’ve wondered if a Lenten fast is nullified by Easter feasting. But in reading Mary Fletcher’s journals, noting the ebb and flow with which she made journal entries, I understood her seasons of profuse writing were not negated by the seasons of terseness. Nor did periods she lapsed in writing void those periods of profusion. She was consistently journaling, reflecting on God’s goodness and allowing divine grace to transform her to become a worthy example to many as she became more and more like Christ. Like a tide that ebbs and flows upon a shore, the disciplines are like waves, ever-present with the rising and falling of the water.

Discipleship is a life-long endeavor, regularly punctuated by the fasts and feasts we keep, consistently renewing and transforming us so we might be worthy vessels to offer the life-giving water of Christ to a parched and weary world.

This piece from our archives originally appeared in 2014.

Interview ~ Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett on Lent

Wesleyan Accent shares the opportunity to explore the Lenten season with Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, who serves the Birmingham Episcopal Area of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church in the United States.


Wesleyan Accent: Growing up, Ash Wednesday was something vaguely Catholic-ish printed on the calendar; I didn’t observe it until later in life. What role has Ash Wednesday played in your life? How has that changed (if at all) depending on what season of life or ministry you’re in?

Bishop Wallace- Padgett: I was first introduced to Lent as a child. Ash Wednesday was a big deal to me during the early years of my Christian walk because it was the day when I would “give up something for Lent.”

As a child I usually eliminated chocolate or candy from my diet as my “sacrifice” for the season. I thought my practice had much more integrity about it than what my buddy did. He gave up peas- a vegetable he didn’t like!

As I grew into young adulthood, Ash Wednesday became more to me than the day that launched Lenten observances. Though I still observed a Lenten fast, Ash Wednesday was the entry way into a 40-day experience of penance and reflection. I found special meaning in the imposition of ashes as a powerful reminder of my mortality and brokenness.

WA: What’s been one of the most surprising or poignant Lenten experiences you’ve had personally? Have you ever had a particularly difficult Lent?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: My most poignant Lenten seasons have occurred when I have fully engaged in observing multiple Lenten practices such as reading a daily Lenten devotional, observing a Lenten fast, participating in special Lenten and Holy Week worship services, giving money to an outreach ministry and adding an extra act of service to my weekly routine.

I have discovered that there is a correlation between the depth of my Lenten journey and the height of my Easter experience. Lenten practices do not make me “holier” and thus more ready for Easter. Rather, like other holy habits, they increase my openness and readiness to experience Christ’s presence in my life.

WA: Some of us have been on both sides of the altar during Lent – receiving ash or bestowing it, observing Lent or planning sermon series for the season. I would imagine that there are a couple of layers of additional swapped roles when you find yourself in a place of ministering to pastors from the episcopal level. How has your perspective on Lent changed as you’ve moved from role to role? 

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: My perspective on Lent has changed over time. This has been affected more by changes in my own personal spiritual journey than by the different roles in which I have served. As my relationship with Jesus Christ has deepened, my Lenten journey has grown more meaningful. I loved journeying through Lent as a local church pastor with a specific congregation. This was a rich and bonding experience.

In my current role, I am journeying with an entire Annual Conference through Lent. I preach often during Lent, including Holy Week services. I also attend as many special services during Lent as my schedule permits.

On another level, it feels appropriate that much of our appointment-making work happens during Lent. The reflective, prayerful posture required by the appointment-making process fits with the mood of Lent.

WA: Lent always seems like a strange play between individuality and community – it’s highly personal on one level, and yet a communally shared experience of traveling the church calendar together. How do you think this dynamic is beneficial to Methodists?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: One of the strengths of Methodism is the dynamic between individuality and community. On one hand, John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed, indicating a deeply personal experience with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, he developed a system of accountability within the context of community through class meetings and bands. We are a community of people who are on our way together in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lent and Ash Wednesday have survived as Christian observances because we need them. Our souls long for a deeper faith. While these special days are sometimes misused and trivialized, for those believers who observe them earnestly, they are a powerful influence for growth in our walk with Christ.

Lent is a season that calls us to personal introspection. It also is a time that accents our life together in community. You are right. Lent brings with it a unique dynamic that emphasizes both the individual and the communal nature of our life together.

WA: And as always, is there something we should have asked but didn’t? Do you have any other reflections or comments?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation. My prayer for us both and for those reading this interview is that we will have deep, meaningful and life-giving Lenten experiences that prepare us for a joyful and powerful Easter.



This originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2015.

Justus Hunter ~ Lent: There Is a River and There Is a City

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
And God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

There is a river and there is a city.

So why go into the ashes?

There was river and there was a garden.
There was a river
And its streams made the garden glad.

And the streams made glad a tree. And the fruit of the tree swelled with knowledge. And the fruit of the tree spoiled with death. And a couple came and they ate, and from them came the rest.

And the rest built cities. And among the rest, some had much and some had little. And so, among the rest, some were made to carry and others made them carry. And so the rest made cities. And the cities grew hungry. The cities hungered, and they foamed.

The cities hungered and foamed, and their hunger bore fruit, fruit swollen with knowledge and spoiled with death. The cities hungered and foamed, and their ripplings went round the world, cresting with promises. And the ripplings rebounded, crossed back, and swept the peoples and promises in their swell. From wilderness, desert, forest, and plain they were swept. They were swept into the cities, and the cities teemed with people. And the cities teemed with promises.

The cities teemed and roiled and spewed forth promises, promise upon promise. And one city ate another. Its promises consumed the promises of the other. And the cities and their promises grew. And so the ones made to carry grew to pursue the promises. And the ones made to carry built promises for the city. They worked miracles, making brick and laying brick. They worked miracles, making bricks with no straw, laying bricks with no straw. And so the cities built their promises.

Now the ones made to carry, the ones working the miracles, they did not forget their promise:

 There is a river whose streams make glad.

The ones made to carry did not forget. Their promise lived on. But the promise lived as the soft accompaniment of absence. There, in the other cities, they lived on other promises, promises created by the city and for the city, promises dreamt by the ones who made them carry. And still their promise lived on – There is a river whose streams make glad. – but it lived on as absence. And as absence, the promise spoiled and turned to sorrow.

And then the Word of the Lord came and spoke again the promise.

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

The ones made to carry left their bricks behind and the Word of the Lord led them through the waters and back into the wilderness and the desert. They wandered far from the cities. And there, far from the hungers and foamings of the cities, they remembered the promise. There, in the wilderness, the most high made a holy habitation in their midst. It came into the middle of them. And with them, it moved, it wandered.

And so they built a city. And though there was no river, there were springs, and its springs made the city glad. And they built channels for the springs, and the channels fed terraces for their gardens. And there they grew trees, and on the trees grew fruit. There they built a holy habitation of the most high. And the most high came and was in the middle of it.

And they thought this is the city that will make glad. They built their city. They sought the promise. But then they remade the promise in their own image. They sought their own justice.

And the city turned. Its kings doubted the promise. And so they remade it in their own image, and once again the promises grew. And the city roiled and spewed forth promises, promises upon promises. And they promised their own justice and their own freedom from oppression. And once again, some of the rest were made to carry. And the ones made to carry built the city her promises.

The city turned. Its promises grew, and it ate other cities. But then other cities ate it. And the city burned, and her promises turned to ash. And the promises could not be told one from the other because ash is only ash. Ash does not remember.

So all the people, the ones who made carry and the ones made to carry, tumbled. The people were swept from their city to other cities. And once again the promise was theirs only as the soft accompaniment of absence. The promise was there as sorrow. And then the city swept them back, and they lived among the ashes of their promises.

The people lived among the ashes of their promises. And the people fasted and tried to remember. But the promise had spoiled, and the ashen promises of the cities overwhelmed them.

And the Word of the Lord came again. But this time, the promise came as judgment.

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the promise of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
They say, “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all the ones you make carry.
You fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

The Word of the Lord came again. The promise was spoken again, but this time as judgment. The people sat among the ashes of their promises, promises made in their own image. The people sat among the ashes. And yet, they could not make the fast the Lord had chosen. Though they sat among the ashes, the could not humble themselves. And other cities grew hungry, and one city ate another, and one city of ash replaced the next, and one ashen promise followed another. And the people tumbled.


Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

So why go into the ashes?

Lent is a season that begins in ashes and ends in death. Lent is born in ash and dies in the descent to the dead.

Lent is a season for fasting, a season for bowing down, a season for exchanging silk for sackcloth. Lent is a season for ashes.

Lent is a season of judgment. Lent is a season of the judgment that will renew within us the promise. “There is a city.”

Lent is a season of clarity. We already sit among the ashes. We already sit in cities made in our own image. We already run after promises made to ourselves. We already seek our own paths to our own justice. And we already know, our own cities and our own promises and our own justice end in the ashes.

Lent is a season of clarity. It is a season to remember – from ash we came, and to ash, we will return. It is a season to remember – though we have the hope of a city that will not reduce to ash, though we have the hope of a promise that, once fulfilled, will bring an end to the foaming after more promises, though we have the hope for a justice founded in the righteousness of God, a justice that shares in God’s own eternal righteousness – we do not have this city or this promise or this justice as a possession. We have it as a promise. And so we must hold it as a promise.

And what is it to hold a thing as a promise?

To hold as a promise is to be cleansed by the truth, the truth which pierces us as judgment: we sit among the ashes of our promises. We do not come to the ashes from outside. We are awakened to the ashes already among us. We cannot resist replacing the promise of God with promises made in our own image. We cannot resist substituting the City of God with cities of our own making. From ash we have come. To ash we will return.

We hold the promise – There is a river and there is a city. There is a river and its streams make glad.

We hold the promise as a promise.

Before Christ’s final Lenten descent, his descent to the dead, he comes to the gate of that city of ash, that city where the most high dwelt. He comes to the gate and he cries out:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The Word of the Lord comes again. But the Word of the Lord comes not merely on the lips of this prophet, but on the lips of this prophet who is the Word become flesh, the Word dwelling among us. The Word comes in this man, Jesus Christ, the holy habitation of the most high. The Word comes in this man, Jesus Christ, the living God in the middle of us, in the center of the rise and fall of our hungry cities and our ashen promises.

The Word of God comes again, and cries out:

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate.”  You sit among the ashes.

And I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Happy is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Glad is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
And God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

So why go into the ashes?

There is a river and there is a city. But we have forgotten the way. And so the Way comes to us. And the Way guides us: Into the ashes. Through the ashes…

Andy Stoddard ~ To Observe a Holy Lent

As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, there is always a call to fasting.  That is one of the definitive features of this time of Lent.  It is a time to pull back from all the abundance of our life, particularly for those of us in the West, and to refocus ourselves upon God, on our great need for him, and on the mercy that he provides over and over again.

We see this call with the Ash Wednesday Service Liturgy within the United Methodist Church:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,

   to observe a holy Lent:

   by self–examination and repentance;

   by prayer, fasting, and self–denial;

   and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

I’ve always had a little bit of an awkward relationship with Lent.  On one hand, I know that it’s necessary.  I know that we must repent of our sins, turn from them, refocus and shift our lives towards God.  We need this.

But for me, one of my key verses is Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”  We repent because of the kindness of Christ. 

So Lent can leave me feeling a little uneasy.  We need to focus on sin. We need to focus on fasting and discipline.  We need to focus on our great need for God.

But we also need to remember that as much as we search for God, God is calling out for us.  We are loved.  We are valued. We are of sacred worth.

We fast to refocus.  But refocus on what?

Not our human frailty.

Not our human loss.

Not our human weakness.

We focus on the goodness of God.

The grace of God.

The love of God that does not beat us down or break us apart.

The love of God that does not make us feel inadequate or unworthy.  No, that’s not the love of God.

The love of God reminds us that we are made in his image. We are called by his name. We are him.

The love of God builds up.

We fast to clear away the noise and the pain and the hurt.  We fast to tune our hearts to his grace. We fast, even in the midst of our pain and brokenness, not to be torn down.

No, we fast to be built up.  To be reminded of what matters and where life is found. We fast so that our ears can properly hear that voice of God, calling out to us.

In this season of Lent, no matter where you find yourself, may we all commit to a holy Lent.  May we fast.  May we pray. And may we hear the voice of our God calling us back, once again, to the healing power of his love.

May this be for us all a holy Lent.

Becoming My Prayers

Note from the Editor: This timely word is reprinted from the original February 2014 post

I frequently do workshops on prayer, which I always find kind of odd because I’ve never felt myself to be much of an expert on that kind of thing. Prayer is hard work for me; it’s meaningful, but it’s hard. During my workshops I always focus at some point on intercessory prayer – prayer for needs beyond our own – and every time I do, a cartoon I saw years ago pops into my head: A guy sees a friend across the church parking lot. In the bubble above his head he thinks, “Uh oh! I told Bob I’d pray for him! … Dear God, bless Bob.” Then he waves and says, “Hey Bob! Been praying for ya!”

There are a lot of levels to intercession – praying for needs beyond our own – but every time I think of this cartoon I’m reminded of an important truth: praying for others isn’t so much about rattling off the words of our prayers (even if those words are more genuine than in the cartoon). It’s about becoming our prayers. I believe God responds to our prayers – there’s mystery here I know, but I believe it despite and maybe even because of that mystery. The interesting thing about praying for needs that aren’t our own is that many times God’s response is not as much directly about those needs as it is directly about us.

When I pray for the hungry, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “I hear you, I’m working, but what are you going to do about the hungry?” When I pray for people who are lonely, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “Okay, Kim. You know I’m a comfort to the lonely, but what are you going to do? How are you going to bring that person comfort?” At every turn it’s the same. “What are you going to do?” At every turn I realize it’s not just about the words of my prayers, even though they’re important, it’s about becoming my prayers.

Now this shouldn’t be a massive revelation; but it’s significant for me as I approach the season of Lent. During Lent we often focus on sacrifice. People give something up as a part of their spiritual discipline. I frequently give up diet coke, which those who know me, know isn’t an easy thing. Often I also fast twice a week. Also not an easy thing, at least for me. So I know that during the next several weeks I’m going to have to decide what kind of spiritual discipline I will undertake to mark the season.

So why is the idea of becoming my prayers so significant for me right now? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a passage from Isaiah that seems to enter my mind every time I begin to think about engaging in any kind of “self-denial project”:

Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

I will tell you why! It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal…

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:1-8, 10)

I often talk about “speaking faith,” which for me means (among other things) giving life to our ideas and beliefs by speaking them aloud. Moving them from the realm of our personal, interior selves to an external realm where they can become infectious and dynamic. That’s the kind of thing I want to happen to my prayers, to my fasting, to whatever self-denial I decide to undertake. I want to move them beyond my interior self. I want them to make a difference beyond the inner realm of my own personal spirituality.

In Healing of Purpose, John E. Biersdorf writes, “As an act of love, prayer is a courageous act. It is a risk we take. It is a life-and-death risk, believing in the promises of the gospel, that God’s love is indeed operative in the world. In prayer we have the courage, perhaps even the presumption and the arrogance or the audacity to claim that God’s love can be operative in the very specific situations of human need that we encounter.”

I believe God’s love can be operative in very specific situations of human need, that’s why I pray. But there’s a very real sense in which that love becomes operative only when I become my prayer, when I become my fast, when I become my self-denial. That’s when it becomes pleasing to God. That’s when God’s light shines out from the darkness and our darkness becomes as light as day.

Carolyn Moore ~ How to Pray When Your Prayer Life Is on the Rocks

J. C. Albert has to be one of the greatest followers of Jesus I’ve ever met. I met him in India in 2012. He was the most open, loving, friendly guy and he had these wonderful stories to tell of adventures with Jesus. He has visited and shared the good news of Jesus Christ in nearly 3,000 tribal villages in India. He has walked nearly 10,000 miles for Jesus while being chased by tigers and bears and Hindu extremists. He is a true adventurer who is fueled by the love of Jesus.

Every need Albert has had since beginning in ministry in the 80s has been met without him ever asking anyone for anything. He lets God determine both the need and the provision. Here is what he says about that in his little book on evangelism:

“Prayer is the fuel that runs our ministry. Every experience, trial and inspiration I have recorded is a result of prayer. The foremost thing I learned in ministry is prayer followed by Bible study. Prayer empowers and gives vision.”

Those words resonate with me and are proven not so much by my faithfulness as my failures. In seasons when my faith has faltered, I can invariably point to a fumbled prayer life. Prayer empowers and gives vision; the lack of it weakens trust and causes me to wander.

Maybe for the sake of improving my vision, God has been leading me more deeply into the place of prayer. For the last two years, I’ve been on a journey with God centered on intimacy. It started late in 2014 when the Lord spoke and challenged me to give my whole heart to him.

On the quest to understand what that means (and at this point, I can only say that I realize just how much I don’t know, and almost nothing about what I do know), I have discovered several interesting ways to increase the potency of my prayer life:

  • I learned to pray with beads. I use a repurposed rosary. It helps me stay focused, especially around prayers of intercession. Every bead has a person or ministry attached, to help me be more disciplined in praying for people and things I love.
  • I rediscovered the richness of fasting, though it comes and goes in seasons. Our church promotes 21 days of prayer and fasting every January. It has become for us a remarkably reflective and spiritually energizing way to begin the year.
  • I’ve found in the Psalms a fresh vocabulary for prayer. In the library we call the Bible, Psalms is the prayer book. I believe the psalms can help us all find a better prayer life. Here, we find the all-too-human wrestlings of David, a man after God’s heart. We hear honest cries for help and deep, worshipful devotion. We get the full spectrum of emotions, not the least of which is anger. What we don’t hear in David’s conversations with God is anything remotely rote. No recitations. No empty wish list. No shallow musings. No generalized litanies of what we vaguely hope for the world.

The psalms are real prayers for real people. They challenge us to think deeply and honestly and give us permission to cry out, to feel, to get close, to give our whole heart. To be rough around the edges.

The psalms challenge us to pray as if God is real.

In Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, he offers several practical tips for those who want to learn how pray the Psalms.

  1. Choose a psalm to focus on.
  2. Read it through aloud, slowly and thoughtfully to get its sense.
  3. Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the first person (as your own prayer for yourself). Don’t hurry. Wallow in it. Savor it. Mean it.
  4. Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the second person (as an intercessory prayer on behalf of some other person).
  5. Don’t end your prayer when the psalm ends. Let this psalm springboard you into the rest of your day’s prayers for current issues and persons that the psalm has brought to your heart. Let the psalm shape the day’s prayer list.
  6. Stay there until God shows up. I realize this isn’t great theology. Of course, it isn’t God who doesn’t show up, but us. But from an experiential place, we can admit that when we don’t have patience for the waiting it can feel as if God is nowhere to be found. It isn’t that he doesn’t show up, but that we refuse him entry by rushing too quickly past the moment.

Even if it isn’t theologically accurate to say it this way, I stand by this good advice: Stay there until God shows up. If he doesn’t show up immediately, he will show up eventually.

May God meet you in the place of prayer today, like deep calling to deep.



Reprinted with permission from www.artofholiness.com.