Why Lent, and How do I Engage Practically?

WHY LENT?

Lent is the season of 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, continues through Holy Week, and is historically marked by themes of repentance, self-examination, and preparation before Easter. Those unfamiliar with Lent might associate this season with “doing penance” as those trying to earn God’s favor, but this is the furthest thing from the truth! Lent actually invites us to journey deeper into the Gospel.

Lent has historically invited us into the drama of the life of Jesus, particularly focusing in on His 40 days in the wilderness immediately after His baptism. Jesus gave Himself to fasting and prayer and resisting the temptation of the devil. Unlike Israel in the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus, Jesus faithfully obeyed and relied on His Father! We too ask God to meet us in this intentionally set-apart time, knowing our weakness and inability to do anything without His Spirit. May Lent lead us into increased intimacy with the Father, appreciation for the sacrifice of His Son, and dependence on the Spirit’s power in our lives!

HOW DO WE ENGAGE IN IT CORPORATELY?

1. Ash Wednesday

We will begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday services on February 26th at 6:30am and 6:30pm at the Park Church building. This service will last about an hour, and we will engage in prayer and song together as well as receive the imposition of the ashes. Ash Wednesday is a day to stare at death in the face and acknowledge our mortality, to be honest about our sin and need for a Savior, and to joyfully remember we are not those without hope because of the work of Jesus! Kids are invited and welcome to be a part of this service.

2. Corporate Prayer

Throughout the season of Lent, we invite everyone to consider joining us for corporate prayer in two contexts: Thursday Morning Prayer at 6:30am in the side gallery at Park as well as on Sundays for our Boiler Room Prayer at 8:15am in the basement. Children are welcome!

3. Maundy Thursday

During Holy Week (the final week leading up to Easter), some Gospel Communities gather for Maundy Thursday, celebrating the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, gave final instructions, and washed his disciples’ feet.

4. Good Friday

We will celebrate with Good Friday services at 5:30 and 7pm on the evening of Friday, April 10, at the Park Church building. We’ll allow the Scriptures to take us to the scene of our Lord’s betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial, setting us up for a deep celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

HOW DO WE ENGAGE IN IT PERSONALLY?

This year we’re inviting everyone at Park Church who is participating in Lent to engage in three kinds of spiritual practices: fasting, prayer, and generosity. We covered the basics in our “Engaging With Lent 2020” guide that we’ll be handing out on Sundays and Ash Wednesday, but here we’ll take a little bit of time around each practice but also share some practical ways of exploring each.

1. Fasting

Fasting is one of those disciplines that most Christians know they should do, but rarely get around to it. The interesting thing is that it’s one of the disciplines we see Jesus doing (Matthew 4:1–11; 17:21), a discipline He assumes His disciples are doing (Matthew 6:16) and a discipline we see the early church continuing to do (Acts 13:1–3; 14:23). So what is it? David Mathis defines fasting as “voluntarily going without food—or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God—for the sake of some spiritual purpose.”

Fasting ultimately is about refraining from one thing that we might engage more intentionally with another, namely God. Sam Storms comments, “The ironic thing about fasting is that it really isn’t about not eating food. It’s about feeding on the fullness of every divine blessing secured for us in Christ. Fasting tenderizes our hearts to experience the presence of God. It expands the capacity of our souls to hear his voice and be assured of his love and be filled with the fullness of his joy. Let me say it again: Fasting is not primarily about not eating food. It is primarily about feasting on God.”

Practically speaking, there are a couple great ways of exploring fasting during Lent:

One is called a whole fast, where you actually skip whole meals with the exception of water, juice, or liquids. This kind of fast can be hard for some people due to particular physical conditions so don’t just jump in without considering how it might affect you. A way of easing your way into this whole fast is simply by skipping breakfast and lunch on a day and eating dinner in the evening. Another way would be to do a 24 hour whole fast where you only drink water, juice, or liquid during that day. Many from Park will choose to do this together on Wednesday if you’d like to join us!

Another way is called a partial fast, which could also be more tied to the season of Lent and called a seasonal fast. This might look like you giving up eating sugar or drinking alcohol. Others choose to give up things like social media, Netflix, etc. The important thing isn’t necessarily what you’re giving up, but what you do in the absence of that item and where it leads your heart. Fasting generally is never a solo discipline, but rather should always be practiced in conjunction with prayer.

2. Prayer

We believe that prayer is an essential part of what it means to be both a human and a Christian. It’s about communion and communication with the God we were created to know and walk with. As we fast during this season of Lent, we also feast on God through prayer! We encourage everyone to find meaningful ways to pray corporately (see above for a couple corporate prayer times) and personally in this season.

As far as personal prayer, we’re encouraging everyone to pray The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) daily during the season of Lent. Many may choose to pray it first thing in the morning, starting their days by re-orienting their hearts to their Father in heaven! Others may pray it ongoingly and continuously during the day. However you choose to pray this prayer, we encourage you to open your heart as you do! This prayer isn’t intended merely to be a check box in order to feel good about yourself, but rather a launching pad for intimacy and communion with God Himself.

3. Generosity

As we fast from food or particular hobbies that cost money, we want to be open to re-directing the money saved and invest that somewhere else. The God we serve is an insanely generous and kind God. How might you learn to imitate Him and His generosity? How might God be directing you to be generous with your time, energy, and money in this season of Lent? Is there an organization that Park works with that you can contribute toward (find a comprehensive list at love5280.org)? Is there a need that might come up in your neighborhood or friendships where you can assist in? This practice works in conjunction with fasting and prayer and aids in shaping us in becoming more Christlike. It’s a reminder that our spirituality affects all aspects of our lives, including our bank account and how we view money.

Final Encouragement

Wanted to close this time by encouraging you in five ways:

  1. Plan before Ash Wednesday.​ The longer you wait, the less likely you are to do anything.
  2. Ask God what His invitation is to you this Lent! Let Lent be part of your relationship with God.​ Talk to God about where He wants you to grow. Where have there been areas of struggle? Where is God shining a light and inviting you to walk more closely with Him in? David Powlison has some amazing questions called “X Ray Questions” that might be of help as we practice some of this self-examination. Here’s a short sampling of those:
    • Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, and escape? When you are fearful, discouraged, and upset, where do you run? Do you run to God for comfort and safety or to something else? (To food, to others, to work, to solitude?)
    • What do you love? Is there something you love more than God or your neighbor?
    • What do you want? What do you desire? What do you crave, long for, wish? Whose desires do you obey?
    • What do you think about most often? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?
    • When you are doing a menial task or driving alone in your car, what captures your mind? What is your mindset?
    • What do you talk about? What occupies your conversations with others? What subjects do you tend to discuss over and over with your friends? The Bible says it is out of the heart that our mouths speak.
  3. Your answers to questions these might help lead you as you process how to fast, pray, and be generous!

  4. Don’t take too much on.​ Keep it simple. If you take on too much, you’ll get overwhelmed. Take on 1–3 new practices. I’m going to fast from this on this day or the whole time; I’m going to gather for pre-service prayer at Park; I’m going to try to give some money to someone or something during that time. For parents, it might be doing one weekly devotional. If you’re not trying to add stuff in your world, consider just studying Exodus which we’re going through as a church more closely.
  5. Share your plan with a friend or spouse​, and then chat with them during the time about how it’s going.
  6. Don’t be discouraged by failures.​ Let any failures lead you back to the truth that God is more gracious than we are sinful! He’s kind. John Newton said, ​“Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.” What a truth to celebrate as we jump into Lent!

Resources

On the Christian Year
“Living The Christian Year: Time To Inhabit The Story of God” Bobby Gross
“Ancient Future Time” Robert Webber

On Lent
“Lent for Everyone: Matthew” NT Wright (we will have some copies available in our bookstore)
“Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross” A series of writings compiled by Nancy Guthrie
“Why Lent” Park Church Podcast
“The Christian Year: Lent” Musical, visual, and spiritual resources from Park Church and others for the season of Lent

On the Lord’s Prayer
“The Lord And His Prayer” NT Wright
“The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide To Praying To Our Father” Wesley Hill
“Dallas’ Personal Daily Practices” Dallas Willard on how he uses the Lord’s Prayer daily.
“A Simple Way To Pray Every Day” A short blog from Desiring God on how to use the Lord’s Prayer.

On Fasting
“A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer” John Piper (click here for a free PDF of his book)

Prayer Apps
Daily Prayer App
Lectio 365

Sanctity of Human Life Month

Sanctity, n: Holiness; state of being sacred or holy. God attributes no sanctity to place. Milton.
2. Goodness; purity; godliness; as the sanctity of love; sanctity of manners. 3. Sacredness; solemnity; as the sanctity of an oath. (Webster, 1828)

 

As we continue in Sanctity of Human Life month, let us remember that every one of us is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Every human being bears it—the unborn child, the mother who just found out she’s pregnant and is scared, the elderly man on the street, and the young man on Wall Street. Those who look like us bear the image of God and those who don’t look like us bear the image of God. Same for those of a different economic class, race, or political persuasion.The list continues on and on.

There is a thread that weaves throughout all of today’s human rights movements, making them more alike than they may appear at first glance. Ending human trafficking, racial reconciliation, women’s rights, and the rights of the unborn—these issues matter because people matter. The image of God matters. How we are led to engage with them may vary greatly among the Body, but may we never close our eyes to injustice upon life.

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
(Psalm 139: 13–16 ESV)

Liturgical Audit

A liturgical audit (or habit inventory) is simply an honest account of how you are spending your time during the week. The goal is not to foster comparison or shame, but to help you see the habits and rhythms that are shaping you, and to consider what they reveal about your values and desires.

WRITE: Make a list of your time spent during the week.

  • Write down what you do in the morning, during the day, and in the evening. Include the first and last things you do every day.
  • Write down how much time you spend on each activity, including the small things (time spent sleeping, getting ready for the day, on your phone, watching TV, getting kids ready, preparing & eating meals, exercising, time with Jesus, commuting, podcasts, time with friends, etc.)
  • Consider how frequently or infrequently you incorporate various activities. Consider how your weekend habits are different than weekdays.

CONSIDER: Consider your daily and weekly habits and write down some observations.

  • What is encouraging or discouraging about your habits?
  • What do they reveal about your values and desires?
  • How might these things be forming you, your family, or your community?
  • Are these things cultivating a deeper love for Jesus and for His calling in your life?

PRAY: Talk to Jesus about what you are seeing and feeling about these things.

  • Remember that Jesus loves you and is inviting you into deeper communion with him and a more meaningful life.
  • Ask Him if there are habits that should change in some way?
  • Tell Him about what feels challenging.
  • Ask Him for help as you continue to try to orient your life around His presence with you.

DISCUSS: Take time to talk about your observations and thoughts with a friend, spouse, or people in your Gospel Community.

Christmas Morning Resources

The purpose of this blog is to give you as a family and/or community of friends some ideas to read, pray, and sing as you celebrate Christmas together. Use and arrange the different elements as they are helpful for your context.

The four weeks leading up to Christmas Day are the season of Advent. The aim of Advent is to create longing for the coming of Christ. Christmas Day and the season of Christmastide (the twelve days following Christmas) are intended to celebrate the glorious reality that Jesus has come to us in the incarnation and to teach our hearts to long for him to return! In short, Christmas is the celebration that Advent builds up to—and here we are!

Feasting on good food, gathering with loved ones, and exchanging gifts are all appropriate ways to celebrate this beautiful truth; they are each a small and imperfect reminder of the God who has perfectly come to save His people—and who will one day come again.

READ

Here are three possibilities:

  1. Before you open gifts, consider reading through Luke 2:1–20 together and talking about what stood out. For those with kids, ask them questions about what they heard and what stood out.
  2. Pick and read one of the Christmas stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible. There are three accounts: “He’s Here!” (pg 176) tells the nativity account from Luke 1-2. “The Light of the Whole World” (pg 184) tells the story of the shepherds from Luke 2. “The King of All Kings” (pg 192) provides an account of the story of the Three Wise Men from Matthew 2.
  3. Read a fun Christmas morning liturgy. Common Rule created two superb Christmas morning liturgies, an adult version and one designed to be read with kids (it involves hot chocolate and marshmallows!). Click here for the adult version and here for the one that includes kids.

PRAY

Here are three different ways to pray:

Pray prayers of gratitude.

  • Thank God for anything that stood out in the story from Luke as you read it.
  • Think about the last year. What are one or two things that you are thankful for?
  • Thank God for particular friends or family members

Pray prayers of petition.

  • Pray for those experiencing their first Christmas without a particular loved one.
  • Pray for those who are homeless, hungry, and/or physically suffering.
  • Pray for restoration in relationships that are challenging.
  • Pray that the Church in Denver and in other communities around the world will thrive.
  • Pray that people who do not know the love of Christ trust in Him this season.

Pray from “The Valley of Vision.”

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father,
place me with ox, donkey, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in Him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith,
exulting that He is mine and I am His.
In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.
(From “Gift of Gifts” in The Valley of Vision)

SING

We’ve provided you with a playlist of some classic Christmas hymns and songs. You are welcome to either sing along to these songs or just have this playing in the background as you open gifts!

Joy To The World (Joyful Joyful) by Phil Wickham
Hark The Herald Angels Sing by Sandra McCracken
The First Noel by Shane & Shane
O Little Town of Bethlehem by Bifrost Arts Music
O Holy Night by Heck Ya The Halls
Silent Night by Hillsong Worship
What Child Is This? by Sleeping At Last

RESOURCES

10 Questions To Ask At Your Christmas Gathering by Donald Whitney
Need a few questions to get some conversational juices flowing? Try this for a few aids!

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas by Joe Carter
Read 9 interesting facts about Christmas that you may not have known!

The Christian Year: Christmastide
Click here for some music, visual art, and prayers tied to the Christmas season. Listen to the song about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Look at the artwork and consider what it teaches you about Christmas. Pray the prayers made available.

Merry Christmas!

Advent Weekly Practices—Week Four: Listening Prayer

Our fourth and final weekly practice for this year’s season of Advent is called listening prayer. This practice can be integrated into your regular times of prayer or last week’s practice of the Daily Office.

Depending on your background, the term “listening prayer” may seem like an oxymoron. If prayer is, by simple definition, conversation and communion with God, then it will naturally have elements of both speaking and listening. However, many of us in our faith journey have stumbled into an understanding (at least behaviorally) that prayer is primarily about us speaking; about us asking for things. We pray when we’re in need. We ask God for health, safety or protection. Perhaps we remember to thank Him for something once in a while. And yet, that’s not how conversation or communion works—we see this in Scripture and we know this from our interpersonal relationships.

Think of your closest relationships with other people. When you grab coffee or lunch with a good friend, there will be ebbs and flows in the conversation. Give and take. Speaking and listening. Yes, some conversations will be lopsided, but in order to know and be known (communion), there must be elements of both. We all have that friend that never asks a single question. That’s called a monologue, not a conversation. (And, if you’re not sure who that friend is, you might just be that friend).

If our Christian faith is not so much a “religion as it is a relationship” (as we’ve loved to say), then why would we treat our relationship with God so differently than our human relationships? Why would we default to one-way conversations where we dump our list of requests on Him and then quickly move on? Try that in a dating relationship and see how it goes.

What if our goal in prayer was communion? To be known and to know? What if we could hear and know the voice of God in addition to our voices toward Him?

Jesus seems to assume that all of His disciples will hear and know the voice of God. In John 10, He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). Like sheep who hear and follow the voice of their shepherd, we have been given access as Christians to be able to hear and follow the voice of Jesus. He affirms: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (v. 14).

These words from Jesus aren’t an anomaly in the Bible. Throughout the entirety of Scripture, from Adam and Eve in Eden (Gen. 3) to prophecies for the coming of the Spirit (Joel 2), to the early church (Acts 11, Acts 21, 1 Corinthians 14), we see the ability of the people of God to hear and understand the voice of God. Some audibly hear a voice; others have dreams, prophetic words, divine insight, wisdom, leadings or promptings.

Obviously, God has also graciously given us the ability to hear from Him directly by reading the Bible. Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, and by reading it we have the opportunity to listen to Him. And yet we’re also called to abide and communicate with God Himself (John 15). Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). We can fully trust the Word of God and still listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to us today in our various contexts.

What if the Spirit of God wants us to teach us or remind us of something today? What if God is speaking more often than we realize? What if we sometimes miss His voice by filling our lives with distraction and noise? What would He say if we slowed down and asked Him to speak?

We have before us an invitation to slow down, stop talking, and actually listen. Like Week One’s practice of the prayer of silence, it takes a lot of intentionality in our day to spend time listening for God’s voice. Read on for some practical application and tips for listening as individuals, households, and Gospel Communities:

INDIVIDUALS

While this practice may feel foreign or difficult to engage with at first, the concept is as simple as it sounds: listening prayer is about stopping, quieting our hearts (and often our surroundings), and listening for God’s kind voice.

Like other spiritual disciplines, it’s helpful to make a plan to incorporate it into your life—especially if your default disposition in prayer is to “monologue.” If you’re already engaging with prayer during the day or the Daily Office this season, a simple place to start is to devote five minutes of that prayer time to listening. It can be helpful to begin by reading a portion of Scripture or a Psalm before quieting down. Then, pray that God would silence any noise or competing voices. Next, ask Him a simple question like, “Father, is there anything you’d like to speak to me right now?”

At this point, begin to spend time listening and paying attention to what’s brought to mind. If it’s clearly a distracted or contrived thought, simply release that thought to God and return your attention to listening to Him. Your laundry can wait, that text message isn’t that important, and so on. Give yourself grace for distraction—that’s normal. If you think you’re hearing something from God, you may want to write it down in a journal. He may remind you of a Scripture or song, give you an encouragement for yourself or someone else, give you an image or a vision of something, etc. He is creative and will choose how He wants to speak to you. However, settle it in your heart beforehand that even if you don’t hear something specific, silence before God in His presence is always time well spent!

Most of us who are less familiar with this practice will be asking the question, “how do I know if I’m hearing from God or just making something up?” This can certainly be a genuine and difficult question to answer, but we have a few guidelines that can help us discern between God’s voice and other voices. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 calls us to not despise prophetic utterances (words from God spoken through people), but rather, we are to examine everything; to hold on to what is good and to run from what is evil and wrong.

Here are some questions we can ask to examine what we think we’ve heard from God:

  1. Does this align with Scripture? God’s voice will never contradict what He has already spoken in His written Word. If you’re not sure if it’s Scriptural, spend time studying the Bible and bring trusted friends or pastors into what you think you’ve heard.
  2. Did I hear clearly or was it just an impression? We have to remain humble as we discern whether we heard from God or not. He may be speaking clearly, but we often hear or interpret imperfectly.
  3. Does this build up in encouragement and love, or tear down and condemn? Does it point to Jesus? Does it lead us to love God and love others more? While the Spirit of God will sometimes convict us of sin, there is no more condemnation for us if we’re children of God, because of the work of Christ (Romans 8). The voice of God won’t cover you in shame or tear anyone down.
  4. Does this align with my experience or the experience of those involved? If it doesn’t align with reality, it isn’t God’s voice. For example, if you think He revealed someone else’s middle name, and it turns out to be incorrect, clearly it wasn’t something God spoke.
  5. If I think I’ve heard something that predicts a future event or circumstance, does it come to pass? God’s voice is never wrong. Throughout history, He has sometimes provided divine insight into future occurrences. This may seem obvious, but if we sense something of the future, and it doesn’t come to pass, it wasn’t originally from God.

A few words of caution: We recognize this practice comes with an immense potential for misuse, abuse, and harm. Many have heard or experienced grave stories of those who have said, “God told me…” that have led to personal, interpersonal, or corporate injury. It’s extremely important to examine what you’ve heard through the lenses above and to remain humble by recognizing your own imperfect ability to hear. Especially if what you’re hearing carries any kind of significant weight (a major life decision, etc.), make sure to ask a trusted group of Christian friends or a pastor/elder to help you discern what you’ve heard. Humbly allow the Holy Spirit inside them to guide you toward what is true and life-giving.

Furthermore, if you think you heard God speaking something for someone else, use an extra amount of caution before sharing with that person. Work through the questions above before sharing. If it seems to line up with the heart of God, you might humbly say something like, “I’ve been practicing listening to God’s voice, and I don’t know if this is from Him or not, but I think He wanted to encourage you with something—would you mind if I shared?” It’s imperative that your aim is to humbly love the other person. If the encouragement doesn’t seem to resonate with that person, that’s okay! Graciously admit your own imperfection, and move on. Moments like these are opportunities to take risks of faith, while owning our weakness and sharing that our goal is to love God and love others well.

Note: It’s almost never a good idea to make predictions to others about weighty matters like births, deaths, or relationships beginning and ending. If you think God has shared that information with you, hold on to those things privately and maybe write them in a journal. Hold them with open hands. If the event does indeed come to pass, praise God and thank Him for revealing something to you.

Despite its potential for harm, this practice also has incredible potential for encouragement, edification, and faith-building. Sometimes it is worth humbly and graciously taking a risk to see what God might do in and through you. Continue to give yourself grace and put energy into practicing listening prayer. God is a kind Father who loves speaking to His children!

Finally, keep in mind that in these potentially subjective waters, our true and final confidence in never in a particular word someone may have shared with us but rather the God who spoke the word. Be wary of clinging to words more than to the Word Himself. We should be those who cling tightly to Him and know He will fulfill the things He promised (if He indeed did)!

Questions for individuals to consider before listening:

  • How often do I make time to listen in my conversations with God?
  • When might I utilize listening prayer this week?
  • Who can I invite to help me discern if what I hear is from God?

Questions for individuals to ask God while listening:

  • Is there anything You want to say to me?
  • Are there any Scriptures You’d like to remind me of?
  • Is there anyone You’d like me to encourage today?
  • What are Your thoughts toward me?
  • Is there anything You’d to direct my attention toward?
  • Is there any sin You’d like to convict me of?
  • Is there anywhere You’d like me to go today?

Pray through this week’s confession of sin here.

HOUSEHOLDS

Families, begin as parents by reading through the “Individuals” section above. Talk to your kids about how prayer is like having a conversation with God. When you talk with someone there are times when you listen and times when you talk. The same is true in prayer with God—He has things to say to us too, but sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and listen. Tell your kids that you are going to practice listening in prayer. Then pray something simple like, “God, thank you for always listening to me when I pray. I want to hear what You have to say, too.” Sit with your kids and listen. After a few moments (or minutes depending on your child’s age and attention span) ask them what they hear God saying. You may want to give them some blank paper to draw or write down what they hear God saying. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will say profound things even to little children! If possible, guide them through some of the questions above that help us tell if it really is God speaking to us. Feel free to use some of the questions below for discussion or prayer time together as well.

For spouses and housemates, read through the “Individuals” section above and consider practicing listening prayer together. Doing this together is a great way to grow in hearing the voice of God. Ask God to speak to you, then spend five minutes in silence together. At the end, share what you heard, what you were reminded of, or what impressions you had. Walk through the questions above to discern if something you hear is from God or not. Use the questions below to guide discussion or prayer time together:

Options of questions for kids and families to consider:

  • What is listening prayer?
  • Why is it important to listen and not just talk to God?
  • How can we listen to God?
  • How do we know if it’s God talking to us?

Questions for families to ask God before listening:

  • Is there anything You want to say to us?
  • Is there anyone You want me to encourage today?
  • Is there anything You want me to remember today?

Questions for housemates or spouses to consider:

  • What objections (if any) do we have to listening prayer?
  • What experience do we have with listening prayer?
  • What keeps us from listening for God’s voice?
  • How might we engage with this practice together?

Questions for housemates or spouses to ask God before listening:

  • Is there anything You want to say to us?
  • Is there anything You want me to encourage [my spouse or roommate] with?
  • Is there anyone You want to encourage together today?
  • What are Your thoughts toward me/us today?

GOSPEL COMMUNITIES

Before meeting, read through the introduction and the the “Individuals” section above.

Read Luke 2:22-38 together and ask someone in the group to recap the sermon from Sunday. Consider asking some of the questions outlined below, and use this blog post as a reference as questions come up.

Halfway through your time, take time to practice listening prayer together. You may choose to do this as a whole group, or perhaps in smaller groups of 3-4. Go over the questions listed above for discerning if it is God speaking to us or not. Remind your group that even if they don’t hear anything, silence before God in His presence is time well spent. Once you’ve discussed those things, encourage people to ask God a generic question like, “Is there anything you’d like to speak to me, for my benefit or the benefit of others?” Listen for five minutes. Afterward, begin to share what the experience was like and what you think you may have heard. Discern together what may have been from the Lord. Encourage honesty, risk, and humility.

End your time together in (spoken) prayer.

Questions for Gospel Communities

  • What struck you this week about the life of Anna in Luke 2:36-38? Anything different than the last two weeks?
  • What was compelling, convicting, or challenging about the sermon from Sunday?
  • What is listening prayer?
  • What is difficult about listening prayer?
  • What has been your experience with this practice?
  • Why do we sometimes avoid listening to God?
  • How can we know if God is speaking?
  • How can we approach listening prayer with humility?
  • What are humble and gracious ways to share what we think we may have heard from God with others?

Advent Weekly Practices—Week Three: Daily Prayer

Our practice for the third week of Advent is daily prayer. We’ve been aiming to stretch our daily prayer practices all season long, but we’ll focus this week on a particular type of daily prayer known as “fixed-hour prayer” or the “Daily Office.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we’re urged to “Pray without ceasing.” How do you respond to this verse? How many of us read this and think, “Sounds good. Done!”? Probably none of us. In fact, most of us feel miles away from this reality. Feelings of shame or guilt can rise in us as we read this command. Excuses and justifications come bobbing to the surface. Or maybe we’re encouraged; maybe we’re inspired to muster up more willpower to try it again today! Or maybe we’re exhausted even just thinking about it.

Regardless of your initial reaction or current prayer practices, the truth stands beneath the exhortation: we were created for communion with God. We only need to read a few pages into Genesis to see that God’s original design was for humanity to walk in constant communion and relationship with Him in His presence. More than that, it’s also what eternity holds for the people of God: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:3).

Scripture is bookended with the presence of God, but we find ourselves here somewhere in the middle—somewhere between the design and its ultimate fulfillment. In this wilderness-esque place, Jesus offers communion with Him as an invitation to us, but this God-communion is not as easy as it was in Eden. We forget that He has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28). Our misaligned desires, poorly-ranked priorities, sinful hearts, busy calendars, and distracted minds steer us away from abiding in and with Christ.

And yet, that is exactly the invitation of Jesus in John 15: to be with Him. To abide in Him and in His love. To allow Him to abide in us. To receive His love consistently. A branch doesn’t remain attached to a vine for only one day of the week (or one hour in the day!), only to live detached the other six days. Similarly, we’re invited to a life with God that remains attached to Him, giving and receiving love throughout the entirety of our days.

This is where disciplines come in. Dallas Willard defined a discipline as “something in my power that I do to enable me to do what I cannot do by direct effort.” Did you catch that? Read it again. If we’re aiming for continuous prayer (something we cannot do by direct effort), perhaps there are tools we can employ (with direct effort!) that may eventually grow our capacity to commune with Jesus consistently.

This week’s practice is designed for this: to help our soul return its attention toward God a few times per day, so that, increasingly, our default disposition might be one that is pointed God-ward. Whether we’re working, resting, or playing, we hope that we might also find ourselves praying without ceasing. Find a few suggestions below on how to explore this practice as individuals, households, and Gospel Communities:

INDIVIDUALS

Peter Scazzero, in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, makes a case for employing a Daily Office by pointing out the potential inadequacy of limiting our time with God to one morning prayer time (often called a “quiet time”):

“Within a couple of hours after being with God in the morning, I easily forgot God was active in my everyday affairs. By lunch I was grumpy and short with people. By late afternoon God’s presence had disappeared from my consciousness. By the time dinner was over, he felt a long way off. After observing my behavior for a couple of hours, my wife and children were always wondering, ‘What happened to Dad’s Christianity?’ And by nine o’clock at night, I was asking myself the same question!”

He goes on to outline the discipline of the Daily Office (sometimes called fixed-hour prayer, Divine Hours, or liturgy of the hours) as “the practice of stopping multiple times throughout each day to be with God.” In Scripture, we see Daniel praying three times per day (Daniel 6:10), David praising God seven times in one day (Psalm 119:164), and the early church praying at specific hours as well (Acts 3:1, Acts 10:9). Throughout church history, men and women of God have engaged in this discipline in varying forms to “practice the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence puts it.

The invitation for Park Church this week is to consider how we might employ the Daily Office to help train our hearts to abide with God throughout each day. Like many of the disciplines, there isn’t one “right” way to do it. We’re all wired differently and find ourselves in different seasons of life. However, here are some tips to using this practice:

  1. Make a plan. Choose two or three times throughout the day that will work well for stopping to be with God. This could be the first activity in the morning, during lunch, and right before bed. It could be a mid-morning break and right when you get home from class or work. Many will choose to set a watch alarm or create calendar events to remember to pray.
  2. Start and/or end your time with two minutes of silence. It’s important that you’re able to stop what you’re doing, slow down, and focus attention on Him. Make use of Week One’s practice of the “prayer of silence.”
  3. Focus on being with God, not merely trying to receive something from Him. Your relationship with God is a relationship! He’s not a genie or a Santa Claus. He wants to be with you, to speak to you, and also to hear your thoughts and desires.
  4. Use Scripture to guide your time. Reading or praying through one Psalm or The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start. Again, consuming is not the goal; relationship is. If you end up spending the entire time praying and meditating on one verse, that might be more fruitful than reading five chapters.
  5. Share your day, desires, hopes, fears, and emotions with God. Invite Him into what you’re feeling, experiencing, and working on. Ask Him to remind you of His presence with you throughout the rest of the day.
  6. Spend as little or as much time as you’re able. Sometimes you may only have five minutes. Others may afford 20 or 30 minutes.
  7. Give yourself grace. Rarely do disciplines come easy at first. Remember this is an invitation to communion with Jesus—not a rule that should produce pride when going well or shame when going poorly.

If you’d like a resource designed for 40 days of the Daily Office (with two prayer times per day), the “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day” book is available at Park’s Info Table for $5.

Questions for individuals to consider or journal about in prayer, before or during a Daily Office:

    • How might I order my schedule with the Daily Office this week to orient my heart toward God?
    • What am I typically wanting when I spend time in prayer?
    • How do I view my relationship with God? Do I see him as similar to a friend? A king? A spouse? etc.
    • What are my heart and mind focused on today?
    • What emotions am I experiencing? What can I share with God?
    • What truth of God do I need to meditate on today?

Pray through this week’s confession of sin here.

HOUSEHOLDS

Families, begin as parents by reading through the “Individuals” section above and thinking through how you’d like to engage this practice personally and as a family. The goal is to help everyone remain focused on the presence and love of God together throughout the day. There’s no one right way to do this, and it will often feel clunky or less put-together than you plan. That’s okay! If your children are a bit older, consider including them in the planning process by asking what times of day you could all stop what you’re doing to pray and remember together that God is with you. Here are a few ideas you might want to choose from:

  1. Set one or two alarms to go off so that the family can hear the sound and come together to pray for a moment. Depending on ages and levels of understanding, you may choose to spend a minute in silence, read a Psalm together or stop to say, “Thank You, God, for being with us while we play/eat/read/etc.”
  2. Think about the daily rhythms you already engage with each day and use those activities as a set time for prayer. Potential rhythms maybe eating meals, brushing teeth, cleaning up toys, doing homework, or bedtime. At the start the activity, take some time to pause and pray. Example: before brushing teeth, say something like, “God, we remember that You care about every part of our day…even the time we take to brush our teeth! You are with us always. So, as we brush our teeth we remind ourselves that You are here with us. Thank You.”
  3. Once or twice a day, go around the room and have each person say one thing they’re thankful to God for today. If possible, explain that the reason you’re doing this together is because God is always with us and that He cares about the everyday things we do. Since we often forget that, this is one way for us to remind ourselves that He is here!

Teenagers may want to set reminders throughout the day, or use something like social media as a prompt to practice daily prayer. Each time you check social media, take a movement to stop and pray. It may help to move the location of the apps on your phone or even place them in a new folder labeled “prayer” to cause your brain to stop and remember to pray. Consider a simple prayer like, “God, you know me fully. There is nothing that I can share on social media or that I can learn about my friends that you don’t already know. Thank you God for caring about me and my world. I want to care more about what you say than what my friends are posting. Help me to know and love you more.”

Spouses and housemates, read through the “Individuals” section above and decide if you want to practice the Daily Office together or in the same manner. You may choose to graciously keep each other accountable to practicing it (regardless of whether you practice it in the same way). Use the questions below to guide discussion or prayer time together:

Questions for kids and families to consider:

    1. What is daily prayer?
    2. When we pray throughout the day, what does it teach us about God?
    3. What kinds of things can we pray about?
    4. When can we pray to God?
    5. God is with us always, but sometimes we forget He is with us. What daily rhythms could we use as reminders to pray together this week?
    6. What are we feeling today? Let’s include God in our day by telling Him what we’re feeling.
    7. What truth of God do we need to remember today?

One way to stop and remember that God is with us is to listen or sing along to “Have I Not Commanded You?” together.

Questions for housemates or spouses to consider:

  1. How might we structure our Daily Office to increase our awareness of God and His love this week?
  2. What are our obstacles, excuses, or resistant feelings toward this discipline?
  3. What is meant by “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)?
  4. What are some of the benefits of praying without ceasing?

During a Daily Office together:

  • Where have I seen God in my day today (or yesterday)?
  • What are my primary emotions? What have I been focused on?
  • Where is my need for God today?
  • What truth of God might we need to meditate on today?

Tell God what you are focused on or what your primary emotions are. Choose a Psalm to pray through together. Pray that God would increase your awareness of His presence and love throughout each day.

GOSPEL COMMUNITIES

Before meeting, read through the introduction above as well as the “Individuals” section.

Like last week, at the beginning of your time together, set a timer for 2 minutes to engage in silence as a group. Encourage everyone to breathe slowly and think about Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Afterward, read Luke 2:22-38 together and feel free to ask some of the questions below. If time permits, read John 15:1-17 and discuss. Remind the group that the goal of any Christian spiritual discipline is relationship with God and others, not performance. Our union with God (salvation) is secure in the work of Christ, and nothing can take that away. From the starting point of His pursuit and love for us, we are then invited to join Him in communion throughout our days—free from guilt and shame even when we fail or don’t accept this invitation.

Because we’re stretching our prayer lives during this season, make sure to prioritize spending time in prayer together when you gather.

If fitting, end your time in a couple minutes of silence as well.

Questions for Gospel Communities

  1. What struck you this week about the life of Anna in Luke 2:36-38? Anything different than last week?
  2. What do you think it looked like for Anna to worship “night and day?” Is that possible for us in our contexts today?
  3. What does it mean to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) when we have responsibilities, jobs, families, friends, homework, sleep, etc.?
  4. Why is it so difficult for us to remember that God’s presence is with us always?
  5. Has anyone attempted the practice of the Daily Office, or something similar? What has your experience been?
  6. Read John 15:1-17 and discuss the passage. What is compelling about the invitation of Jesus? What would our lives look like if we all were abiding in Him? How can we grow in abiding in Him?

Spend time praying together that God would increase our awareness and understanding of His presence with us and of His love for us.

Advent Decor & Colors

Our Advent decor and colors were done by Bailee Caldwell. Here’s how she explains her process and the meaning behind her work:

I’ve always struggled to put into words what it’s like to experience God’s presence. It’s so beautiful and powerful that it compels you to share your experience with others, but human vocabulary just can’t do it justice. Instead, I find myself comparing God’s presence to other visceral experiences—diving into a refreshing lake, feeling sunlight light warm my skin, or getting a deep belly laugh from a funny moment shared with others.

Looking at writings of saints throughout history, it is quite common to talk about The Lord using pictures, characters, or landscapes that are familiar to people. In fact, the Bible is full of such metaphors. God describes Himself as a potter, a shepherd, a star, a jealous husband, a flowing river, a pillar of fire, and many other personifications that strike a chord in our imaginations. We recognize that God doesn’t exclusively speak to His children through language, but often chooses to speak to his children through visuals and music as well.

This Advent season, we as a unified body are seeking to fully experience and feel God’s presence with us in this “already and not yet” season that is life on earth. There are endless ways to pursue God, His presence, and truth. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer and reading the Bible are where we go first and foremost. But in my spiritual life, I have often felt most seen and known by God in using my God-given gifts and experiencing His creativity in day to day life.

There is pain, confusion and tension here on earth while we wait for Christ’s return, and there is so much beauty and formation to be had in our hearts in this tension. To illustrate this, we created a visual installation to help propel the heart’s of Park church towards a full experience of Advent. I am a visual person, incorporating visuals and using creativity in my spiritual life is incredibly compelling—I know other members of our body can relate to this. We hope that as you walk through the doors of Park this Advent season, see the clay ornaments on the foyer tree, and then head back out into your day to day life, the visual sticks with you and compels you towards a deeper understanding and full experience of what God might want to do in your heart and through your life as you wait on Him.

You will notice that the ornaments on the Christmas tree in the foyer are not your typical Christmas colors. We wanted to bring in the meaning of Advent into the decor, which led us to weekly installations, each featuring different colors and visuals that are representative of an aspect of Advent. We intentionally chose to use clay to create and form the ornaments, symbolizing the malleability of our hearts and reminding us of God the potter.

Weekly Colors & Themes:

  • Week one: desert tones to symbolize waiting
  • Week two: shades of blue to symbolize mourning
  • Week three: gray to symbolize the gray area of eschatological tension; the “already and not yet”
  • Week four: purple to symbolize Christ’s royalty
  • Week five: white to symbolize Christ as our pure and spotless lamb

Advent Weekly Practices—Week Two: Fasting

As we continue in our journey together through the Advent season, a second practice that can help increase our longing and hunger for God is the discipline of fasting.

“Fasting.” Just hearing the word can make us tighten up. Some of us feel guilt. Others become defensive or even angry. It’s a practice many of us have heard is probably a good thing and yet few of us engage it with any regularity.

Why is this practice so foreign? Why is it so difficult? Why do we run from it and then justify our avoidance of it? Why can’t we see the gift behind this discipline?

Richard Foster, in The Celebration of Discipline, reflects, “Why has the giving of money, for example, been unquestionably recognized as an element in Christian devotion and fasting so disputed? Certainly we have as much, if not more, evidence from the Bible for fasting as we have for giving. Perhaps in our affluent society fasting involves a far larger sacrifice than the giving of money.”

While there may be no direct command in the New Testament for the Church to fast, the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 appear to imply that all of His disciples will engage in this practice. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (verse 16). Notice He says, when you fast. His assumption is that his followers will fast.

Following this assumption, Jesus is teaching us that our motives are what’s really important when practicing fasting. If we’re looking for praise or some kind of religious trophy, we might receive that—but it’s all we’ll receive. Jesus offers a better way: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (verses 17-18). He is not saying we must avoid others’ knowledge of our fasting at all costs. The Bible is full of examples of corporate fasting (Acts 13 and 14, Esther 4, 2 Samuel 1, etc.). He is, however, concerned with why we’re fasting.

He wants our hearts. He wants us to be focused on Him above all else. He wants to give us a reward that can’t fade or be stolen from us.

So, despite our potentially-mixed bag of motives, we go together before God to engage with this practice. We want to put God first. Or, we want to want to put God first. We deny ourselves food to discipline our body, soul, and spirit and say that God is more important to us than food—than anything.

Below are a few ideas for best-practices and questions to consider for individuals, households, and Gospel Communities:

INDIVIDUALS

We’re inviting everyone in the church body to practice fasting on Wednesdays during Advent (December 4, 11, and 18). If you missed last week, that’s okay! Set a reminder for this upcoming Wednesday (or Tuesday evening) to join us.

What exactly is fasting? David Mathis defines fasting as “voluntarily going without food—or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God–for the sake of some spiritual purpose.” Some people, for medical reasons or otherwise*, can’t fast from physical food but that doesn’t mean they’re excluded. Many have found that fasting from social media, Netflix, particular activities or foods has shown itself to be a helpful way of intentionally engaging with God. Fasting ultimately is about refraining from one thing that we might engage more intentionally with another, namely God.

Sam Storms comments: “The ironic thing about fasting is that it really isn’t about not eating food. It’s about feeding on the fullness of every divine blessing secured for us in Christ. Fasting tenderizes our hearts to experience the presence of God. It expands the capacity of our souls to hear his voice and be assured of his love and be filled with the fullness of his joy. Let me say it again: Fasting is not primarily about not eating food. It is primarily about feasting on God.”

Take a moment before Wednesday to prayerfully consider how you might engage well with God through this practice. Many will choose to go without food for breakfast and lunch. Others will skip one meal or go the entire 24-hours only consuming water (or maybe a cup of coffee). There isn’t a hard and fast rule here; the end goal is to increase relationship with God and ask Him to increase our desire for Him.

One healthy practice is to use the time you would’ve spent preparing and eating food to actually stop and pray! We can miss the point if we simply work through the lunch hour to keep our minds distracted from our hunger. Use the questions below to guide your time in prayer.

Many of us will feel some negative emotions and attitudes rise when we go without the food that our bodies are used to. This is normal and can actually be a gift from God. It is often being revealed what is inside us all along – weakness, dependence, anger, greed, etc. We often use good gifts like food to cope and cover up our inadequacies without even realizing it. Take these emotions before God in prayer, and give yourself grace for these feelings that certainly don’t seem very “spiritual.”

*A note to those who choose to abstain from something other than food: You may decide that fasting from food is not a good idea because of a medical condition or because you are pregnant or nursing. Others may have an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food or body image, and this may not be a practice to try at this time. That’s okay! We’d encourage you to ask yourself before God, “What’s a good gift that I could give up temporarily in order to help train my heart to long for God more than His gifts?” Otherwise, perhaps now is a time to pursue healing and hunger for God in some other way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your Gospel Community Leaders or a staff member if you need help walking through this.

Questions for individuals to consider or journal about outside the time of silence:

  • What are some things I hunger for or look forward to more than God?
  • Why am I hesitant or resistant to fasting?
  • How might my relationship to food or other good gifts be an indicator of what I long for?
  • What do I long for God to do in my heart through fasting?
  • What do I long for God to do in my community and my church through fasting?
  • What are some negative emotions, attitudes, and feelings that rise in me while fasting? Bring those before God, asking for forgiveness, healing, and dependence on Him.
  • Pray through this week’s confession of sin here.

HOUSEHOLDS

For families with small children, this practice may not be possible to engage with all together. Depending on the ages of your children, you may be able to choose one thing to give up together on Wednesdays like dessert or screen-time. Read through the “Individuals” category above and decide if you may be able to cast vision for your whole family to practice a form of fasting together. You may phrase it something like, “We wish we wanted God more than dessert, but usually we don’t. Tonight, we’re choosing to pray and ask Him to be happy with His presence instead of eating dessert, and thank Him that many days we do get to enjoy it.” Again, if possible, spend time praying together in the same time-slot you would have been engaging in whatever activity you’re abstaining from. Use the questions below to guide discussion or prayer time together.

For spouses and housemates, read through the “Individuals” category above and decide if you want to practice fasting together in the same manner. You may choose to keep each other accountable to practicing it (regardless of whether you practice it in the same way). Again, if possible, spend time praying together in the same time-slot you would have been preparing and eating food. Use the questions below to guide discussion or prayer time together.

Questions for kids and families to consider:

  • What is fasting?
  • Why does it sound hard?
  • Why could fasting a good thing?
  • What is a good thing we could give up for one day (or half-day) to spend time with God and ask Him to help us love Him more than anything else?

Pray that God would help us want Him more than anything else. He is the best thing for us!

Questions for housemates or spouses to consider:

  • What are some things we hunger for or look forward to more than God?
  • Why are we hesitant or resistant to fasting?
  • How might our relationship to food or other good gifts be an indicator of what we long for?
  • How might fasting actually be a good gift for us?
  • How can we help each other engage in fasting during Advent?
  • What do we want God to do in ourselves, our families, or our households through fasting? Take these answers to God in prayer.

Pray that God would increase our hunger, dependence, and desire for Him in this season.

GOSPEL COMMUNITIES

A few encouragements for this week’s meeting.

Like last week, at the beginning of your time together, set a timer for 2 minutes to engage in silence as a group. Encourage everyone to breathe slowly and think about Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Afterward, read Luke 2:22-38 together and feel free to ask some of the questions below. If time permits, read Acts 13:1-3 or Luke 18:9-14 and discuss these passages.

Because we’re stretching our prayer lives during this season, make sure to prioritize spending time in prayer together when you gather.

If fitting, end your time in a couple minutes of silence as well.

Questions for Gospel Communities

  • What is compelling about the life of Anna in Luke 2:36-38?
  • What does it mean to worship with fasting and prayer (Luke 2:37)?
  • Why is fasting so difficult? Why might you be hesitant or resistant to this practice?
  • How might fasting actually be a good gift for us?
  • What is your experience with fasting? Has anyone had a positive experience they’d like to share?
  • For those who fasted recently, how did it go? How did it affect your soul? Emotions? Attitude?
  • Read Acts 13:1-3 and discuss together. What is compelling about this passage?
  • Read Luke 18:9-14 and discuss the passage. What is compelling, convicting, or comforting about this passage?
  • What would you like to see God do through the practice of fasting in your life?

Spend time praying together that God would increase our hunger for Him as a church, above all other desires.