This past Sunday, Pastor Mark continued our All In series on stewardship. The focus: time. While none of us probably look forward to the conviction accompanying a sermon on how we use our time, it’s a necessary exhortation that actually frees up to focus on the things that matter most in our short lives.
If you’ve been listening to the sermon series, then you’ll recall Mark’s metaphor of “the curl.” The curl represents our (sinful) tendency to wrap our fingers around the stuff of life and hold onto it as if it’s our own. It’s our way of saying “mine!” So what is one way to fight the curl? What is one way to “look carefully then how you walk” and to redeem the time as God’s stewards? If this week and moving forward we want to develop habits that maximize our time rather than diminish it, what could we start doing differently even this week?
One thing you could do is lean into the season of Lent that begins today, March 1, with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season of the Church Calendar that many Christians throughout history and today participate in for 40—or 46 counting Sundays—days, leading up to Easter. It’s a preparatory season to prepare our hearts for Christ’s victories at the cross (Good Friday) and the tomb (Easter). Despite whatever you might have thought about Lent, it is “first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.” As the title suggests, our sermon series on stewardship, All In: Making Our Passion Practical, has the same design: to get the gospel into our bones so that we apply it in every sphere of our lives.
Some of the primary themes of Lent tie to what we’ve talked about in regards to stewardship, including humility, confession and repentance, walking with Christ, and learning to say yes to what leads to thirsting after Jesus above all else.
Stewards find humility in recognizing they are not the boss of their life but Jesus is, and that their life, gifts, time, money, and talents are to be used to live for Jesus’ glory and not our own. Faithful stewards repent (turn from) of any way they’ve usurped authority over Jesus by misusing their time or talents, by turning gifts into idols, and by saying “mine” to what rightly is his. Stewardship is essentially discipleship, following Jesus and walking with Jesus as we get to know him, obey him, and live in line with his will and desires for us.
Fasting & Stewardship
An often practiced spiritual discipline during Lent is fasting. While fasting has often been abused and misunderstood, those abuses do not make illegitimate the right practice of it. Fasting includes saying no to some things so we can better say yes to other things. It involves giving up (fasting) something in order to take up something (feasting). It is learning to hunger and thirst so we can better recognize our dependence, neediness, and gratitude for God’s provision.
Fasting, or giving something up, is a means to end and we miss out if we focus only on what we give up. For instance, if you choose to forego eating a meal, watching television, or being on social media, the idea is that you might then use that time to commune with God through prayer, meditation on the Word, and solitude. Just like in sanctification we put off in order to put on, so also in fasting, we give up something in order to take up something.
Again, this ties to being a steward of our time because fasting and practicing spiritual disciplines or rituals associated with Lent can help reorient our desires and develop new habits more in line with growing in Christ. Habits aren’t merely neutral modes of operating but they form (either deform or reform) us and shape us. They determine how we’ll spend our time, what we will desire, and what our purpose will be. For instance, if you create a habit of watching television or movies for two hours each night you are forming yourself in many ways. You’ve fashioned a desire and dependence on the TV, banking on it as your nightly ritual, cultivating the taste-buds of your heart, and determining where you will find rest and joy. That habit is formative, even though unintentional. James K. A. Smith in “Redeeming Ritual” addresses how our habits actually form us, including the very desires and loves of our heart.
“Ritual is marked by embodied repetition. Ritual recruits our will through our body: the cellist’s fingers become habituated by moving through scale after scale; the golfer’s whole body is trained by a million practice swings.
Because we are embodied creatures of habit—God created us that way—we are profoundly shaped by ritual. That’s why ritual can de-form us, too: we know firsthand the destructive power of routines and rhythms that can hold us captive and make us someone we don’t want to be.
In all of these cases, we intuit that rituals are not just something that we do; they do something to us. And their formative power works on the body, not just the mind. So why should we be allergic to ritual when it comes to our spiritual life? Could we redeem ritual?”
So What Now?
My encouragement then is to consider leveraging the season of Lent to reform, reorder, and recalibrate your heart as a faithful steward of God. What ritual, habit, or practice tied to fasting and feasting might help you better steward your time and talents while also pointing your heart towards Christ in worship?
You might then ask yourself, what habits in my life shrink my desires for Christ and love for others rather than grow them? What things—whether a ritual, practice, habit, or item—contend for my time, attention, and heart? What things (you might call them idols) have I unwittingly curled my hands around so that to give them up sounds nearly impossible? Conversely, what are the practices, habits, or rhythms I want to give more power in forming and shaping the desires of my heart? How would I like to redeem my time and energy? What things might allow me to better abide with Christ and experience communion with him?
 Will Walker and Kendal Haug, Journey to the Cross (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017), Kindle version: Introduction.
 James K.A. Smith, “Redeeming Ritual” http://www.thebanner.org/features/2012/01/redeeming-ritual. Bold mine. See also his excellent book You Are What You Love.