4 ways to shift the focus of your prayers and spiritual practices
Posted in , Feb 10, 2021
One of the features of my childhood was a cardboard box on our kitchen table during the Lenten season, to collect all of the loose change in the household. On Good Friday, we took it to church and donated it to a “self-denial” fund that benefited missions. Others in my school and neighborhood fasted or abstained from red meat on Fridays during Lent or gave up sweets or television.
Those are fairly common practices, as they help followers of Jesus to observe a season of reflection and repentance for the 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter. But this year? Sure, reflection and repentance are always a good idea, but many of us have sacrificed more than usual since last Easter. We’ve laid aside plans, trips, family gatherings and more.
So maybe this year, we can observe Lent in a different—but still meaningful and helpful—way. Maybe this year, instead of giving up something for Lent, we can flip the focus of our prayers and spiritual practices and appreciate what we might gain during this season. Such as what? you ask. Here are four possibilities:
1) Steep Yourself in Quiet
Do you feel as though you’re surrounded by turmoil and assaulted with bad news? Lent can be a season of turning off the tumult and finding ways to meditate on and experience the shepherd’s Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul (Psalm 23:1-2, NIV)
So turn off the newscast. Skip listening to the radio in the car. Maybe sit in a park or city church at midday and listen…to the quiet.
2) Look for a Fresh Perspective
Remember Elijah after his showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)? He was exhausted. He felt isolated, alone, the last sane voice in the entire nation. But he wasn’t. God spoke and informed Elijah that there were still thousands of faithful souls who could be counted alongside him (see 1 Kings 19:18). This man of God gained a new outlook.
A change in routine—even an unwelcome disruption—can provide a fresh perspective, if we talk it through with God. He will often (as He did Elijah) restore us and point us in a new direction, if we’re listening. So don’t just spend these days leading up to Easter waiting and wailing. Keep asking, seeking and knocking (see Matthew 7:7). As you pray, look for God to give you a fresh point of view.
3) Pursue Some Peace
The prophet Isaiah prayed, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT). What would happen if you made that your daily prayer during Lent? If you fixed your thoughts on God, could you let go of a longstanding grudge? With His help, could you forgive a long-ago hurt? Could you trust Him enough and make that long-overdue phone call?
When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He said, “If you had only known today what would bring you peace!” (Luke 19:42, GWT). Do you know what will bring you peace? Why not make the choices that would bring you inner calm this Lenten season?
4) Don’t Give Up on Healing
Could Lent be a time of healing for you? Would it be a physical healing? A financial breakthrough? A fractured relationship mended?
Sure, it may be a sacrifice to give up salt or red meat during Lent, but wouldn’t that improve your cholesterol? You may find it hard to pray for a neighbor who irritates you, but what if it lowered your blood pressure? You might have given up praying for an outcome, but then you’d surely miss the one prayer that might lead to healing.
When Jesus asked the man at the Pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to get well?” the man replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me" (John 5:7, NIV). He felt friendless and frustrated. And that had been going on for years. But on this particular day, Jesus met him and said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8, NIV). And the man picked up his mat and walked.
Have you stopped praying and hoping? Why not take prayerful healing steps this Lenten season to change that?
Maybe this year, however else you might observe Lent, try shifting your focus and looking for what you might gain.