Means of Grace

During Lent, we Christians tend to give something up or do something out of the ordinary as a sign of our commitment to God. That begs the question: Why? What is Lent that we would do such a thing?

What is Lent?

Based on the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting and being tempted by Satan in preparation for his ministry, Lent is a forty day period of preparation (Sundays are not included in the forty, because each Sunday of the year is a mini-Easter). Forty is significant for other reasons, too, such as the days and nights of the flood, the years the Israelites spent wandering the wilderness, etc.

Lent is actually the first liturgical season, pre-dating Advent and even Christmas. The early Christians used it as a time for new members to prepare in the ways of God to then be baptized on Easter. It has always been a season of preparation.

What is it we are preparing for?

 

Nowadays, since we don’t wait until Easter to baptize people or let them join the church, we prepare to be made new by God on the day of resurrection, Easter.

 

Easter is a day of joy, so preparing for it should be joyous. How did Lent become a season of gloom?

 

Good question. A lot of this probably has to do with Ash Wednesday and, of course, Good Friday (death and despair? No, thank you). Remembering our mortality and that we are nothing compared to God, our Creator, on Ash Wednesday, that we are nothing special but instead just the dust from which we were created, isn’t a whole lot of fun for us because our egos tend to get the better of us. Starting Lent with this reminder sets a tone many cannot stand, whether we admit it or not.

 

Yet it is precisely accepting that we are nothing without God that prepares us for the joy of God’s salvation. Without first committing entirely to a full reliance upon God, the resurrection of Christ and the joy we experience is not as greatly meaningful. At some point we got stuck on the gloomy bits and didn’t move past them, forgetting that accepting our human condition enables us to live into the joy of Easter. This is where the means of grace come in.

What are means of grace?

 

The means of grace, also known as spiritual disciplines, are rather self-explanatory: they are means by which we experience God’s grace; they are means by which we remember and reflect on our total dependence on God for life and for all good things; they are means by which we prepare ourselves for the full joy of salvation and new life.

 

So it is encouraged that we take up a means of grace during Lent (and all the time). Giving up coffee or chocolate or sweets or TV is a good start but there are many other more meaningful means of grace. Whatever you do, it should be a means by which we remember God as our Creator and Life and Joy-Giver. It should not be a means of complaint.

 

And remember, the joy of God’s salvation and life are available to us all the time, not just on Easter. Perhaps, then, you might continue the means of grace that you choose well beyond Lent.

Inward and Personal Means of Grace

 

___Spend time in solitude each day.

 

___Meditate or pray ten minutes or more a day.

 

___Read a chapter of the Bible and reflect/pray for ten minutes or more a day.

 

___Keep a prayer journal.

 

___Keep a list of things you are thankful for.

 

___Fast one or two days a week. If you have questions about how to fast and stay healthy, ask the pastor.

 

___Choose a gospel and read through it twice during Lent.

 

___Choose a person you trust and confess to them sins, regrets, and things that make you feel guilty, asking that they forgive  you in the name of Christ.

 

___Sing a song of praise every day.

 

___Forgive someone or seek to reconcile with them.

 

___Talk with your spouse or other loved one for thirty minutes with no distractions, reminiscing on the joys of life and looking ahead to other adventures.

 

___Spend four hours a day, or one whole day, or more in silence.

 

___Talk with the pastor about another means of grace that may work for you.

Outward and Social Means of Grace

 

___Visit a neighbor, “shut-in,” or church member each week.

 

___Volunteer to visit at a hospital, prison, or nursing home.

 

___Write a letter of affirmation to a person once a week.

 

___Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food shelf, or temporary shelter.

 

___Invite someone to join you in worship on Sunday, someone new each week; or yourself decide to become a member.

 

___Donate to a charity or other non-profit organization once a week.

 

___Give your testimony of how God has worked in your life to a stranger or church friends once a week.

 

___Stop and talk to a stranger.

 

___Talk with the pastor about another means of grace that may work for you.

John Wesley said that inward grace leads inevitably to outward grace, and also that there is no holiness without social holiness. Therefore, as hard as it may be, we should be encouraged to choose at least one means of grace in each category, inward and outward, personal and social. As a way of holding yourself accountable to committing to your reliance upon God to find God’s joy and life anew, feel free to sign this below and keep this in a place in which you’ll see it regularly.