Our church enters the season of lent this year on March 6. As we approach this holy season, consider how your parish might engage in the three traditional lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In modern times, the practice of giving alms has become a sort of ‘ugly stepsister’ among the lenten disciplines. Because lent especially brings fasting to the forefront, many churches go out of their way to teach and practice this often unfamiliar way of cultivating dependence on God. Churches study devotions and host unique opportunities to deepen this commitment to fasting and prayer. As worthy as this focus may be, it can leave the practice of giving out in the cold.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own ﬂ esh? (Isaiah 58:6–7 ESV)
Perhaps the truth is that giving seems rather pedestrian next to the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. All of us receive countless appeals for us to part with our money every day, and it isn’t just consumer advertising. At the grocery store checkout counter, we are cajoled to add a dollar or two to the local food bank. All through the holiday season, we pass red kettles and ringing bells asking for donations. And of course our mailboxes are stuffed with year-end appeal letters. Against such a background, it’s hard to view Lenten almsgiving as a special, sacred discipline.
However, throughout the Scriptures, we see the inseparability of prayer, fasting, and giving. In Isaiah 58, we learn of God’s chosen fast, one that embraces habits of justice, generosity, and hospitality. Indeed, without giving, our fasting and prayers can take a dangerous inward turn, becoming glorified self improvement projects rather than acts of faithfulness. Perhaps this is why, in our Ash Wednesday reading from Matthew 6, Jesus teaches first on how we ought to give, and only afterwards instructs us on prayer and fasting. That is, Jesus gives his disciples his model for prayer after outlining for us a model for giving.
HOW WILL YOUR CHURCH OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR FAITHFUL, SACRIFICIAL GIVING DURING LENT?
HOW WILL YOU HELP YOUR PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THE CRUCIAL BOND BETWEEN GIVING, PRAYER, AND FASTING?
Consider how some of the practices below could be adapted for your context, and encourage your church to observe a holy lent this year:
- On Ash Wednesday, teach on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and start the season with an intentional understanding of the importance of giving as a spiritual practice.• Dedicate two or three Saturdays during lent to local service projects led by lay leaders. Build in moments to learn about and pray for the local ministries you serve. Invite individuals and families to sacrifice one of their ‘busy’ Saturdays to give back to their community. Make time for testimonies on Sunday mornings to hear how individuals are being transformed by giving time.
- Invite local nonprofit ministries to the poor and needy to introduce their work to your church, perhaps at an after-church lunch or through your weekly newsletter.
- Dedicate special offerings to specific needs in your community, either on Ash Wednesday or throughout Holy Week, culminating on Good Friday.
- Feature a different community need each week in lent by setting up a special fund in your online giving. Communicate in your newsletter and in the service about it and invite people to give.
- Focus on the Lenten disciplines of giving, prayer, and fasting in a three week sermon series during lent to emphasize their equal importance.