Lenten Study Guide 2017

(You can listen to the introduction to our Lenten observance here.)

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We enter this season of Lent with a question: What Can Jesus Do In Us? What could the Resurrection mean for us personally? For the people we love? For people we haven’t even met yet?

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Lent is a season of anticipation. It gives us the opportunity to think specifically about who Jesus is and what He offers, which often leads directly to what we need from Him. My first experience of Lent centered around the question, “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” This was incredibly helpful – it pushed me to be more honest with God (and with myself) about what I wanted. Spending that season bringing this heartfelt desire before Jesus, acknowledging that it was entirely in His hands, was life changing for me. And it’s a prayer that God answered, which makes for a wonderful story.

But not all Lenten prayers are answered, which I discovered in the years that followed. If I had to give my springtime prayers a batting average, I’m probably somewhere around .300. Not bad for Major League Baseball, but it felt pretty lonely and disconnected in daily life.

I took a few years off from Lent to think about this. Because when you’ve “failed” a few times, or you have friends who went all-in on prayer and seemingly came up short, it’s hard to be vulnerable enough to offer real prayers up to God for 40+ consecutive days. Sometimes you can fake it for a bit, but after awhile it just feels like you’re living a lie.

As those Lentless years went by, I realized something: Jesus was working in my life. Even when I didn’t pray. My prayers weren’t magic buttons pushed to please God and get my way. They were the building blocks of an honest relationship that allowed Jesus to prepare me for what He had for my life. And that is really good news.

The truth about life is that things happen constantly – circumstances change in ways we never would have dreamt of, opportunities that seem closed off suddenly reopen, we meet people who surprise us and bring good news. As much as we’re tempted to believe that on any given day, THIS is our life, and it’s defined and limited by what we see right now, that’s a lie. God is always working, always building, always changing, always creating. Prayer is one way we partner with God as He gives us glimpses of His plan.

As we consider Lent this year, it seems the best question we can focus on is not “What can Jesus do FOR me?” But rather, “What can Jesus do IN me?” How can we let God prepare us for the abundant life He has for us? How can we attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit and respond? How can we surround ourselves with friends who will support us as we walk away from things and attitudes and behaviors that aren’t God’s best, and cooperate as He replaces them with what we want and need?

The following pages are a three-part exploration of this question: What Can Jesus Do In Me?

Two things to note before we get started:

— A key focus of this season is PEOPLE: specifically, how God uses people to bring His Kingdom here on earth. We’ll talk about friendships and family, colleagues and acquaintances, brief meetings and lifelong relationships. We’ll pray intentionally for people we don’t even know, asking God to show us the larger picture of His Kingdom.

–This won’t be easy. This is a season of intentional sacrifice. It will cost you time and effort to do these things, and sometimes the inconvenience will seem absurd. It helps to know that going in.

PART I: SCRIPTURE

We’ll look at the writings of three of Jesus’ friends – John, Jesus’ brother James, and Peter – across five books of the Bible.

We’ll read one chapter a day. I’ll provide a bit of an introduction at the beginning of each book, but other than that, we’ll let the Word of God stand alone. If you want more information on one of the texts, take a study Bible from the back table, or do a search online. There’s lots of information about every single Bible passage. But also try reading each passage it on its own, asking God to “show you the beauty in His Word.” (Psalm 119).

 

PART II: PRAYER

As you do each daily reading, consider these questions:

  1. What do I see here that I want to pray for myself?
  2. What do I see here that I want to pray for specific people in my life?
  3. What do I see here that everyone needs, that I want to pray for all of us?

Write down your answers and pray through them.

Each day, I’ll share one or two ideas for prayer based on the day’s passage. So if you’re busy or tired (or annoyed or ambivalent) or just can’t think of anything, you can still pray. Sometimes once you get started, more flow from there. It all counts.

 

PART III: FASTING

Fasting is purposely denying ourselves something we want in order to make room for God in our lives. It’s most often associated with giving up food (chocolate sales are often slow during Lent!) Some people forgo food entirely for all or part of this season.

We don’t recommend an extreme fast. This is not a contest, nor is it something we do to earn bonus points with God. There is an important difference between denying our flesh what it wants and abusing our bodies, and it can be difficult to find the line between those two things without help.

Also note that fasting is not a weight loss plan, or a chance to fix bad eating habits. I’ve learned that when I try to give something up for a reason OTHER than connecting with God, it’s almost impossible to keep the fast. Let’s resist the temptation to multitask God.

How do you decide what to fast from?

Ask God. Try not to overthink it. If you have a sense or impression, go with that. It may be something unexpected. I was surprised once when God told me to fast from sweets — I don’t particularly like sweets, so it seemed like God would want me to fast from salty snacks, because that would be harder. But He clearly said sweets, so that’s what I did. (Why is so easy to assume that God wants to make everything extra hard for us?) Go with the sense you get, even if it isn’t the thing you’re most afraid God will ask you to give up!

Some things people fast from (in no particular order):

  • Coffee
  • Reading
  • Social Media
  • Dessert
  • Television
  • Potato Chips
  • Alcohol
  • Meat
  • Dating
  • Video Games
  • Watching/Reading the News
  • Lunch

Know this: Whatever you fast from, as soon as the novelty of Lent wears off, you will REALLY want it. This is the moment of opportunity. When your mind is filled with how much you NEED ice cream/screen time/a cheeseburger/an update on world events, that is when you pray: “Jesus, I want your best more than I want ______.” It’s a simple but effective prayer.

THE BUDDY SYSTEM

Lent is enhanced by teamwork. When you share the experience with other people, you get encouragement, solidarity, reminders of why you’re doing this, and often some inside jokes. Think: who could you invite to join you? They don’t need to be involved in our church, or any church at all. Take an extra packet or send the link to the website to someone you think might be game for a spiritual adventure.

I did this once when a work colleague noticed that instead of my afternoon coffee, I was grimacing over a cup of tea. She asked what prompted the change, and rather than make something up, I just told her: “I’m fasting for Lent. It’s part of something my church is doing – believing that getting closer to Jesus will change our lives for the better.” She joked that she could use some of that, so I brought her a copy of the materials. From then until Easter, we both prayed. She fasted from soda, I fasted from coffee, and we had all these unexpected, encouraging conversations about what God might be doing in our lives as we choked down English Breakfast Tea.


 

DAILY PLAN RECAP

 

ASK: What Can Jesus Do In You To Prepare You for What’s Next?

Keep this in mind as you…

I. READ SCRIPTURE – read each day’s chapter in a Bible (feel free to grab one from the back table), or from the link on our website (Greenhousemissionchurch.org)

II. PRAY – As you read each chapter:

  1. What do I see here that I want to pray for myself?
  2. What do I see here that I want to pray for specific people in my life?
  3. What do I see here that everyone needs, that I want to pray for all of us?

Write down your answers, and pray through them.

III. FAST – “Jesus, I want your best more than I want ______.”

TIP: Consider asking someone to join you.

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KICKOFF EXERCISE:

 

How do you feel right now about God?

 

 How do you feel right now about Lent?

 

We’ll revisit these questions at Easter.

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