Lenten Opportunities

Spin Cycle

My mom would quip how she didn’t know if she was coming or going from time to time. Her acknowledgment usually came during busy times when I wanted to start a new activity or had something I needed her to do.

My mom and dad were 43 when I came into the picture. They had already raised my two sisters and, I’m sure, at 55, would rather be winding down rather than trying to keep up with a 12-year-old. What I believe she was attempting to communicate was how busy she was with competing goals and priorities. At 12-years-old I didn’t know how life gets busy and sometimes we just want to stop.

The earth spins at about 1000 miles per hour (at the equator). We may not know it, but we are constantly spinning, spinning, spinning. I’ve heard people say, “Stop the world, I want to get off” not because of the earth’s constant spin, but because life can spin out of control.

The earth’s constant motion isn’t what gets to us, it’s all the motion in our lives. Regardless of our desire to “stop the world”, it won’t happen. The earth will keep spinning (which is a very good thing) and so do our lives. Even those times when we believe our life will slow down, it doesn’t. Sometimes our lives spin even faster.

Lent As An Opportunity

We are already busy, so what does it mean to add something like Lent into the mix?

Instead of viewing Lent as “one more thing”, what if we see Lent as an opportunity to “stop the world”? Well, not exactly “stop the world” but at least slow it down somewhat. The world will keep spinning, but our lives don’t need to. Lent can be an opportunity when we choose to slow down our spinning lives.

The WHAT of Lent

Historically, Lent has been a time of intentional prayer and self-denial. Over forty days we are reminded of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (see Luke 4). During that time, Jesus fasted, prayed, and combated the devil. The focus on self-denial and prayer helps us connect with Jesus’ time in the wilderness as he prepared for God’s mission.

Our forty days of Lent (which doesn’t include Sundays) started on Feb. 26th with Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Saturday before Easter. What you choose to do during these forty days can have a profound effect on your life and soul. Lent can empower us and prepare us for God’s purpose.

The HOW of Lent

Knowing the history and purpose of Lent can be helpful, but the power of Lent comes via intentional practices. Practices that draw us closer to Jesus, help us to love others, and have the potential to transform our lives empower us to follow Jesus. During the days of Lent, we find newness of life.

The power of Lent comes from our choice to enter into practices that create space for God. The faster our life spins, the easier it is to neglect God. Time for prayer, scripture, and other spiritual practices becomes limited and, at times, completely bypassed, forfeited for other pressing activities. When we decide to find time to draw near to God, we discover how he draws near to us.

The WHY of Lent

Why should we embrace our Lenten opportunity? Because we need Lent. We need to be reminded that life doesn’t consist of our lives spinning out of control. We need time to sit with Jesus in the desert of our soul. We need practices of self-denial and prayer. We need to be reminded that through Jesus’ self-denial and death, we have life abundantly. Lent also prepares us for the celebration of Resurrection.

Invitation to a Holy Lent

The word “holy” means to be set apart. In order to have a Holy Lent, we set it apart. If we want to experience the power of Lent, it must look different than our ordinary days.

How can we set Lent apart? Here are some ideas:

“Giving up” something for Lent is a popular Lenten practice. Whether a favorite treat, time watching TV, or some other item or activity, when we say “no” to ourselves we enter into self-denial.

Fasting a meal or a day (or longer) connects us to Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness.

Setting a fixed time for prayer and reading Scripture can be a time of renewal.

Adding a spiritual practice such as prayer, scripture, spending time in nature, serving somewhere, attending Sunday Worship services, or attending Lenten Reflections, helps connect us to self-denial and renewal.

Yes, our lives may be busy, perhaps overflowing. In order to add Lenten practices, we may have to say “no” in order to say “yes.” What can you say no to? Can you say no to a favorite TV program? A destructive activity? A favorite vice? A favorite food? Eating three (or two) meals a day? The reality is, if we are going to say “yes” to a Lenten practice, we may have to say “no” to an ordinary activity. If we are going to “stop the world” we must say “no” so we can say “yes.” Doing so sets Lent apart, helping us experience a holy Lent.

A Prayer

As you reflect on what God desires for you during this season, I offer two prayers. The first is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment. The second prayer for you to offer Jesus during Lent.

Here is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my father.

Jesus, please help me to walk with you in self-denial. You denied yourself by going to the cross and dying so that I might live. Help me to say no to myself, so others can live. May this season of Lent be a Holy season set apart for you and your purposes. Guide me during these forty days. May I be transformed through you. Peace, David.

Five Essential Practices of Leaders

Leading well requires intentional practices.
Leading well requires intentional practices.

One of the best books I’ve read on leadership is “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The book, in its fifth edition and over twenty-five years old, outlines five vital practices for effective leadership. As I stumble my way into and through leadership, the five practices have helped my leadership development.

Practice One: Model the Way

Leaders set the climate of the organization. Leaders must clarify values by finding their voice and inspiring commitment to shared values giving people a reason to care. For leaders to be effective, they need to passionately model and pursue the vision of the organization. This practice can be phrased in different ways; walk the talk, buy what you sell, live what you preach, etc. Leaders can’t tell others to be vision focused if they are not. Your behavior, not your title, earns you respect.

Inspire a shared vision

Shared vision, more than anything, transforms organizational culture. Leaders cultivate shared values and vision by imagining future possibilities through reflecting on the past, attending to the present, and prospecting the future.

Shared vision creates ownership not only among leaders, but across the entire organization. The importance of ownership cannot be over stated because owners approach their work differently than non-owners. Owners care passionately having a “do what’s needed” attitude. If leaders do not inspire ownership, team members, whether employees or volunteers, develop a “do what’s asked” mentality limiting their full engagement and talents.

Inspire others by embracing your passion, aligning your dreams with the people’s, and animating the vision using stories and images. Such inspiration helps individuals give their best to the mission of the organization.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities by seizing initiatives, exercising outsight (instead of simply looking “inside” leaders also look outside), and treating every job as an adventure. Experimentation and risk-taking move leaders and organizations out of their comfort zones closer to fulfilling their vision. Willingness to do what hasn’t been done before, start small, generate small wins, and learn from experience creates active learners who keep learning while moving forward.

Enable Others to Act

If a vision can be fulfilled without teams, the vision is simply too small. Teams are vital for any vision worth pursuing. Building strong teams, perhaps the the most difficult, but essential task of effective leadership, empowers organizations to realize seemingly impossible goals. While culture celebrates leaders who single handily transform organizations, those leaders usually have good and strong teams contributing to their success.

Teams are built by fostering collaboration around a common purpose in an environment of respect and trust. A climate of trust, created by sharing information and facilitating relationships, needs to be established if teams are going to be successful (See Five Dysfunctions of a TeamFive Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni).

High trust allows the enhancement of people’s sense of self-determination providing opportunities that get the best out of team members and releasing their full potential. Rather than focusing on the “right way” to solve problems, teams are given permission to find their own solutions, allowing for creativity and innovation. People are smart and will figure things out if given the chance. Accountability and expectations make sure teams stay on track and within any boundaries of the organization.

Encourage the Heart

I find this practice the hardest given my temperament, but many will find the practice easy. Leaders encouraging the heart through celebration and recognition. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation. Celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community. When hearts are encouraged, people not only respond with loyalty, but with their best work.

Summary

These five practices have transformed my view of leadership. I still struggle with a few of the practices, but I see how these practices enable organizations to effectively fulfill their mission. For more information about these practices, check out “The Leadership Challenge”.

Discussion

What practices do you find the easiest? What ones are the most difficult? Can you think of practices that can be added to the list?