This week we enter the season of Lent, a time when we often hear talk about “what are you giving up?” a time when people have traditionally fasted in some way. In recent years it has become a bit of an excuse to do something ‘good for us’. Giving up chocolate or alcohol as a chance to lose a bit of that excess we are still carrying from Christmas or as a sort of detox. This misses the point of fasting. It isn’t about self-improvement (apart from perhaps in a spiritual sense), it is about making space, space for something else. Fasting in it’s oldest form was about missing a meal (or several) in order to make room for God, time to pray and read scripture.
Making space in our day to spend more time with God is certainly one I would recommend. (I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t endorse that kind of thing would I!) But the fast is about more than just giving up things, it also gives us the opportunity to do something positive for others. Sugestions like 40 Acts (if you are not aware you can read more here) gives 40 simple acts of kindness you could take on to do during the 40 days of Lent. In Isaiah 58, the prophet brings the message of God to the people saying this of fasting:
6 ‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
At Re-Fresh on Sunday we were looking at this idea of doing something positive, aware that if someone gives you a list of 40 things it can seem a bit daunting (although I would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge). During our group discussions we came up with 6 acts, one a week (although they can be done more than once) hopefully as something we can look at and feel we can get into.
We explored our list of 6 and thought about what the Bible had to say on each of them as well. Below is our list, passages that relate to each item and some thoughts on each idea. Are you up for the challenge? If you are why not come back and tell us below how you have got on?
The 6 weeks of Lent – Acts of Kindness.
1 – Smiling or saying hello to a stranger
What does a smile or a friendly greeting cost?
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world we almost don’t notice those around us. Paul had a few things to say to help us out on this one.
Writing to the church at Philippi he wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
As Christians we have something to rejoice in, to be happy about, a smile reflects that!
Writing to the church at Thessalonica he said:
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
‘encourage the disheartened’ the power in a simple smile can do that, as mentioned above there is no cost involved in a smile, yet the impact can be great (although often we may never know!)
Lastly, again from Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus this time, he is sending one of his companions to them, a man named Tychicus, he tells them:
I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. (Ephesians 6:22)
It’s good to encourage others!
2 – Help someone
There were several ideas along these lines, it could be in any number of ways, helping someone carry their shopping, wash their car or helping someone who struggles to get out to be able to do so.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12)
That opportunity to do something for somebody else.
3 – Visit someone who lives alone
In Matthew 25, Jesus talks to the crowds and he tells a parable about the Son of Man separating people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He gives two lists of the things they did or didn’t do, the sheep are the ones welcomed into his kingdom, on that list he says:
I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:36)
Prison can be many things beyond a physical building; loneliness and depression can both be a form of mental prison (and related to each other). Who could you visit?
4 – Not teasing people
This suggestion came from one of the young people – it’s not always teasing: perhaps sometimes just a reaction that leads to an unkind word. As Jesus was talking to the crowds on a mountainside he covered an awful lot of subjects one of which was about love for our enemies:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
Sometimes we can find it easy to justify unkind words. We may know that Jesus tells us we should love our neighbour, but he also tells us we should love our enemies, those that persecute us, wind us up or get on our nerves. A kind word instead of a spiteful one can be a powerful thing both to those we are speaking to but also to ourselves.
5 – Don’t be so busy that we miss the need
We all know how it is, many of us can relate to the white rabbit on the way to the Mad Hatters tea party; we are so busy or so engrossed that we miss the needs of others around us, we just seem to be blind to them. In Psalm 139 David reflects on how well God knows him:
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
God is so interested in us, in being a part of our lives, he hasn’t missed a thing. Even before we were born, unseen by another human, God was there. If God can take that much attention with our lives surly we can take the time to slow down, become more aware of what is going on around us, to see the need and then take the opportunity to help where we can.
6 – Put something in the foodbank box
For most of us we are very fortunate, we are rich compared with the rest of the world, but even with some of those living closer than we think. Isaiah was a prophet. He spoke to the people on God’s behalf, in chapter 58 he wad telling people about the differences between true and false worship. In verse 10 we read:
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
By giving something to those less fortunate than ourselves, not only does it help them but us also, it lifts our spirits.
These are just highlights from our discussion, maybe you can think of some other acts of kindness you could commit to during Lent. let us know how you got on.
(Thoughts and passages complied from notes taken during Re-Fresh and shared by Simon Faulks & David Talks)