Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent focuses the Christian’s heart on self-examination, fasting and spiritual preparation during the six-week season—forty days—leading up to Easter Sunday.
During the season of Lent, some Christians make sacrifices: no meat, no chocolate, no Facebook or no cussing—you know what I’m talking about. For some, these sacrifices replicate what Jesus did when he withdrew into the desert for forty days before his ministry.
The Wisconsin tradition of Friday fish fries was born of the Lenten habit of avoiding meat on Fridays. When I bought a home in Wisconsin—the home that features the architectural feature that spawned this blog—I speculated I could dine on fried fish at a different establishment every Friday of the year, there were so many options available! The perspective that a meal of rich fried cod or batter-soaked shrimp as a sacrifice amuses me. Instead, I like to think of Lenten sacrifices as an opportunity to do something rather than not do something.
Whatever your faith, the season of Lent might inspire you, too, landing as it does in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring when creation is at its peak and all things are new. During the forty days of Lent, I invite you to be intentional about what you do instead of what you don’t do. Maybe what you do is something mindful of the needs of others.
No matter your abilities, your budget or the “busy-ness” of your schedule, one way to take daily action is through intercessory prayer, the act of praying on the behalf of others in your community.
For those who indulge in Bell Tower Prayer’s daily prayers, we pray intercessory prayers most Thursdays. (To subscribe to Bell Tower Prayer’s daily prayer inspiration, click here.) In the past few weeks, we’ve prayed for the mentally ill, for those who suffer from rare diseases and for victims of suicide and their families, for example.
For those who doubt the efficacy of prayer, consider the study performed by cardiologist Randolph Byrd in 1988. In the double-blind study (those who prayed didn’t know who they were praying for, and patients didn’t know they were being prayed for), the cardiac patients who were prayed for over the course of ten months enjoyed a lower rate of death and a higher rate of “good” as opposed to “bad” outcomes. Some quibble with the results, as prayer is difficult to quantify, but one could argue praying for someone certainly doesn’t hurt.
For Lent, consider praying daily for specific members of your family or faith congregation, specific groups, or specific needs in your community. Still need inspiration? Google “intercessory prayer for [blank],” and you’ll find literally millions of prayers.
May the spiritual journey of Lent lead you to fresh realizations.