On Ash Wednesday, I quoted an interaction I had with Sarah Dickey over email about the verse we were looking at (Psalm 90:12) and what God has taught her through the loss of her husband last year to an aggressive form of cancer. Many asked me if I could send them what I shared, and Sarah graciously allowed me to share this more broadly. I pray it’s encouraging!
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Walking through terminal illness, the dying process, death of my life partner and then continuing to live with the immense grief and pain that followed while raising two little kids has brought me to a mental space I didn’t know existed before. When I think about what it means to “number our days”… I think, those days ultimately aren’t ours to begin with.
Keith used his earthly days to exercise and train so he could climb harder. He worked long, physically demanding days as a route setter, to improve his trade. He spent late hours shaping climbing holds, to expand his line. Gave endless energy to house renovation projects, bringing ideas to fruition. Gave afternoons to watching football. Or practicing music. Or serving the church. Or resting.
10 years as a husband.
3 1/2 years as a father.
37 years as a son.
35 years as a brother.
20ish years as a believer
August 12, 1980 – February 8, 2018
That’s it. The number of Keith Michael Dickey’s days.
That’s not easy to write. Feels harsh and somehow still not true. Yet here we are.
What did I learn as I watched what Keith wanted from life and worked for with his days, where a tangle of serving God and himself existed… slip from his desperate grasp? As I waited for his last day on this side of eternity, for his last breath from the wretched body that betrayed him?
I learned to hold this life, these days with the most open of hands. I can serve and love God and his Creation with what he has given me. I can ask Jesus for forgiveness and confess when I fail. I can honor brokenness and cling to a deep hope in future glory.
But I can’t make the days my own. God holds them, they aren’t mine; they never were. I think this painful yet freeing understanding, reached by way of cancer and death and grief and solo parenting, has given or yielded in me a wise heart… or heart of wisdom as they say.
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 2019” guide that we’ll be handing out on Sunday, but here we’ll take a little bit of time around each practice but also share some practical ways of exploring each. James and I also talked in depth about what Lent is, where it came from, and some ways of exploring it here.
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.
Another way is called a partial 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.
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 and personally in this season.
Here are a few ways to explore praying corporately with others:
- Join us for our pre-service prayer on Sundays at 8:15am or 4:15pm in the basement!
- Come to our Sunday services
- Thursdays at 6:30am in the gallery
- Pray with your Gospel Communities
- Intentionally pray daily or weekly with a friend throughout Lent
We also encourage you in your personal exploration of prayer:
- Pray prayers of self-examination like David in Psalm 139:23-24.
- Pray the Lord’s Prayer in the mornings and/or evenings
- Pick a different psalm each day to pray and meditate on throughout the day
- Check out the prayer app called “Pray As You Go” which has some great contemplative prayers
- Another app called “Daily Prayer” has Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, and Night Prayers. Dependent on when you open it up, it takes you there automatically! Easily accessible.
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 www.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 looking more Christlike. It’s a reminder that our spirituality affects all aspects of our lives, including our bank account and how we view money.
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.
Your answers to questions these might help lead you as you process how to fast, pray, and be generous!
3. 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.
4. Share your plan with a friend or spouse, and then chat with them during the time about how it’s going.
5. 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!
Our guest is Joel Limpic. He’s the Pastor of Liturgy & Arts at Park Church.
3:15 – What Lent Is and Why We Do It
6:25 – The Historicity of Lent
8:50 – The Bible and Lent
14:30 – The Spiritual Value of Lent
17:30 – Practical Advice for Engaging with Lent
27:30 – Recommended Lenten Resources
29:10 – Five Short Exhortations and Prayer
We come to our third and final Wednesday in the season of Advent as we pray through The Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13:
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Two weeks ago we looked at God as being our Father only because of the work of Jesus in our place. We also prayed that His name would be hallowed and set apart in our hearts as our greatest treasure. Last week we prayed that His kingdom would come and will would be done in Denver as it is in heaven. Before we move into final petitions found in this prayer, let’s remind ourselves who it is we pray to! We pray to our Father who’s made us His own. He’s the King of the universe and can do anything—nothing is too great for Him! Take a moment to praise Him for His power, love, and kindness to save and adopt you into His family.
Song Ideas: All I Have Is Christ, Be Lifted Up
Today we’ll be looking at the final three petitions in this prayer. In his book “Eat This Book,” Eugene Peterson commented:
The Prayer has six petitions: the first three pray for the furtherance of God and His work—His holiness, His will, His kingdom; the matching triad is oriented around human needs—food, forgiveness, deliverance. The pair of triads is connected by the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven,” which is to say that prayer has its source in heaven, the home country, so to speak, of God, but the action takes place on earth—our home country. Prayer that is not firmly grounded “on earth” is not prayer as our Lord taught us to pray.
We are going to look at each petition and then in turn take time to pray through it, closing our time in prayer.
Petition #4: Give us this day our daily bread
As our Creator and our Father, we are instructed to ask God to provide for us our daily bread. Up to this point, every request has been God-centered (note the use of the word “your” in all the prior petitions) and now we become honest about our own needs. We can often fall in an “either/or” ditch in prayer: we can either only focus on praising God and asking nothing from Him because we feel guilty about that. We tell ourselves, “He already knows what I need before I ask, so I won’t ask.” There’s a ditch on the other side which treats God like a cosmic vending machine. We only come to Him when we want something. He becomes our Genie in a bottle instead of our heavenly Father. Jesus rejects this false dichotomy by teaching us to adore and ask; to praise and petition. In this petition we learn that He knows He’s made us with real human needs and we are to come to Him in our need to ask Him to provide for our basic needs.
Where do you need God to provide today? Physically? Spiritually? Emotionally? Are there others we need to pray for?
Petition #5: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
Jesus reminds us here that part of our relationship with God as Christians will continue to be coming before Him in confession and repentance. Confession isn’t a “one and done” act when you initially come to faith. Rather, it is to be an intimate and repeated practice of being honest before God about all the ways you wander from Him (both things you’ve done and things you’ve left undone). The aim of this prayer for forgiveness is not to seek the judicial forgiveness which you already received from God when you first came to Him in faith, but rather relational forgiveness. What is at stake in this prayer is not union with God, but rather communion with Him. The amazing thing is that we’re promised in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Not only are we to ask for forgiveness from God, but we are to image and imitate Him in how we forgive others! Unforgiveness and Christianity are incompatible because forgiveness lies at the heart of our relationship with God and must manifest itself in our relationship with others too.
Where do you need to ask God forgiveness today? Be specific. Where do you need to forgive others today?
Petition #6: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
It’s so easy to forget this powerful reality: there is a war happening right now as we speak. It’s a spiritual war where there is real good and real evil at work all around us! The Bible likens Satan to a prowling lion (1 Peter 5:8), a schemer (Ephesians 6:10), who is both a murderer and a father of lies (John 8:44). His aim is tempt us and ultimately destroy us. Jesus teaches us to call out to our Father of lights to protect us from this father of lies. We are to ask Him to take every situation in our lives, both pleasant or unpleasant, and use it for His glory! Satan wants to take that exact situation and use it to tempt us to forget God or even curse Him. God wants to use it to shape us to love Him more and look more like Him.
Where do you most naturally find yourself tempted by Satan? Which are the top three areas you are most prone to wander in? Where are you currently being tempted? Where do you need deliverance? What about those around you? Take the next few minutes to cry out for deliverance both for yourself and others.
“Look At The Book: Part 2: Deliver Us From Evil” (John Piper)
“The Lord And His Prayer” (NT Wright)