A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Penitential Disciplines

We must always remember that disciplines flow out of love and are not a substitute for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Penitential Disciplines

During the seasons of Lent and Advent, the church practices the disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving. While these disciplines can be practiced anytime throughout the year, Lent and Advent provide extended seasons for the church as a whole to practice these disciplines as a community.

These disciplines could be thought as a way of throwing our lives into the grace of God. They can help increase our awareness of God’s Presence in our midst, His gifts in our lives, and His transforming work in our souls and in the heart of the church.

Sometimes we may feel guilty if we don’t follow through on our penitential goals, but the guilt may hinder our awareness of His life in us. If we fall short, we simply continue to call upon His mercy and rest in His love. We must always remember that disciplines flow out of love and are not a substitute for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

While we should always be a people of prayer, we might set aside some time for meditation and examination during the penitential season. This might actually mean stripping away activities in our daily life, but also a stripping away too much of anything that might hinder pausing, listening, waiting before God in the Word. We might practice reading the same text (like one of the lectionary readings) each day of the week. We might also slowly pray through the Great Litany as a way of personal examination. Martin Luther wrote a guide on prayer and meditation to his barber that is also worth using in your time of meditation.

As we read, we pray, as we listen to the Scripture, we ask God to speak to us. This simple repetition might help increase our awareness of how God is addressing in His Word.

We live in a time of such abundance, fasting can be a way of recognizing God’s provision while also stepping back from our tendency to be gluttons of food, of information, of entertainment, and more. Fasting in Scripture in most often a communal fast in repentance or in a day of seeking God’s counsel. The church has traditionally fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays because Jesus was betrayed on a Wednesday, and he was crucified on a Friday. This normally means abstaining from meat (and/or cheese and desserts), but it can involve abstaining from all food, or limiting two meals to snacks and eating only one normal meal.

Some adapt this fasting practice to give up one food throughout the season. Or modest fasting of other senses like silence while driving, spending evenings without television, and limiting online interaction to only one time of the day.

Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov speaks of a fast of the eyes that prepares us to behold the beauty of the Lord. By fasting our senses even in modest ways, we might prepare our hearts and minds to encounter the Lord afresh in all five senses.

Giving is a vital discipline throughout the year. During penitential times, it can be a way of thanking God for His provision. Typically, almsgiving includes both time and money. How do we serve the needy in our community and world with our time and money? This can be one of the most joyous disciplines as we seek creative and faithful ways to give with abundance. It might be as simply as giving larger tips, paying for the groceries and meals of strangers, serving a local charity, and seeking ways to serve the broader world community in giving and in prayer.

As we practice these penitential disciplines during Lent and Advent, we join with God’s people from across the world in seeking His face. Much like the communal prayer and fasting in Scripture, we follow the ancient pattern of seeking God as the priestly people.


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