Believe it or not Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time for us to prepare our hearts and minds for the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Those are the two pivotal events in the Christian year. Without those two events, there would not be a church and we would not be Christians. That is how important the crucifixion and resurrection are to our faith.
Lent is a time of preparation, a forty day period when we intentionally take time to think about our lives, what we done with them, if that is in line with God’s will and, if it’s not, do whatever we need to do to get them back in line.
Today, I want to start preparing us for Lent because, like most things in life, if we are prepared for Lent then chance are that Lent will be a more valuable experience for us. In 1 Corinthians 9 writes about the need to be prepared. He says that we prepare ourselves through training. In the passage that I read this morning Paul likens it to an athlete who trains for a competition. If he wants to win, he had better train. No training, no winning. No training, maybe not even finishing. And so Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NIV): “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” If you want to compete, if you want to finish, if you want to win, you have to be prepared. It doesn’t just happen. You have to put in the time and effort it takes to get good at what you’re trying to accomplish.
Most of you folks know that I’m can be a tad excessive when it comes to fitness. I’ve run marathons and lots of shorter races. I did competitive body building for a couple of years to heal up from all my running injuries. I’m back to running again.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things. I know that when it comes to training, I’m at my best when I have a goal. That’s because I’m a goal oriented person. If I’m looking ahead to a particular race, I know what I have to do to train for that race. I know that I have to build up my distance. I know that I need to do my speed work to improve my time. I know what foods to eat, what liquids to drink and what supplements to take. I also know what to stay away from. To finish a race and to do well takes training and discipline. As Paul says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”
Paul also points out something else that’s important. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 (NIV) he writes, “Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” What’s he getting at there? He’s pointing the fact that it is important for us to have goals. He knows what he wants to achieve and he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
So here’s my question to do: “What’s your goal? What do you hope to achieve today, this week, this year and even the rest of your life?” That’s a good question and one that we don’t often think about too thoroughly. I sometimes ask people those questions and I get some interesting answers. Some people say that they are working on being debt free. Other people want to save up for a fancy vacation. Some want to earn a university degree or a college diploma. Other people hope to make it through this pandemic.
Those are all very common goals. There is nothing wrong with them. I think it’s a very good idea to be debt free. I wholeheartedly support vacations and post-secondary education. And I want to get through this pandemic too. These are all good things but they are also temporary. All of them will fade away with time and disappear.
Now listen to what else Paul writes. 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NIV) says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” Then he tells us why, “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Paul is referring here to the Greek tradition where athletes who won their competitions were often given a crown of flowers called a laurel to wear on their heads. They didn’t get medals or ribbons, cups or trophies. They got a woven crown of flowers.
What happens to those flowers? In the heat of the Mediterranean summer they will undoubtedly wilt before the day is over. Nonetheless Paul’s thoughts are bang on. Look at the example of how an athlete prepares for a competition. They train hard for weeks and months. They constantly try to improve by eating the right things and exercising in the right ways. And what do they get for all of their hard work? They get a flowery crown that will be gone by tomorrow.
If an athlete can put that much effort into something that is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more should we be willing to prepare for something that will last forever? God does not offer us a woven crown of flowers. Rather, he offers us eternity with him in his kingdom. And just as the athlete needs to prepare for the games, so as we God’s children need to prepare for his kingdom.
PREPARING FOR THE KINGDOM
So, how do we do that? How do we prepare for God’s eternal kingdom? That is what Lent is all about, preparing for God’s kingdom.
There are many things that we could do to prepare ourselves but I want to focus on three specific ones this morning. The three things that we can do to prepare ourselves are worship, prayer and study. Worship, prayer and study are three simple yet powerful ways to build your faith and your relationship with God.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about each of these beginning with worship. Worship is something that God calls us to do. By worship, I mean getting together with your brothers and sisters in the faith to worship God on a regular basis. That’s what God wants. You were created to worship him. That has become more difficult this past year because of Covid-19 but we are doing the best we can with what we have. Some people, however, think that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. While I can respect their opinion, I can’t agree with it. Hebrews 10:25 (NIV) says, “Let us not stop meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” If you want to prepare yourself for the kingdom, for the prize that will last forever, you have to gather to worship with your community of faith on a regular basis. Yes, I realize that there are those who cannot attend worship because of disabilities or work schedules but, when that happens, we as a church need to reach out to them with worship alternatives such as online worship or printed worship. And yes, you can be a Christian without going to church but you’ll be a better one if you are able to gather with other sisters and brothers in the faith who will lift you up and train you in the way that you should walk in Jesus’ name.
The second part of your preparation is prayer. Ephesians 6:18 (NIV) says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) is a simple verse to remember. It say, “Pray without ceasing.” I want to note that this is not talking about a posture of prayer. It’s not saying that you should spend your whole life on your knees with your hands folded, your head bowed and eyes closed. Some people are called to that kind of prayer ministry but most of us aren’t. What these verses mean for most of us is not posture of prayer but an attitude of prayer. It’s the constant awareness of and communication with God. It’s driving down the road in your car remembering someone who needs prayer and offering prayer while keeping your eyes open and your hands on the wheel. It’s doing the laundry and folding one of your kid’s shirts and remembering to thank God for this precious gift, that you have been blessed with a child. Prayer is not something that we only do on our knees – although we certainly should do some of it on our knees. It is a lifestyle of thanksgiving and intercession where you come to the understanding that everything you are everything you have starts with God. Prayer is part of your preparation.
We prepare for the kingdom by worship, by prayer and finally by studying the word of God as it comes to us in the Bible. We see many examples of this in the New Testament. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV) says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If you want to be the person God wants you to be, if you want to do what God wants you to do, you have to be prepared to study the Bible. You can do it by yourself if you have to or you can belong to a Bible studies or small group. Here’s some good news. Starting April 5 we are going to be hosting an Alpha Bible study that will carry on for about three months. In those three months we will be looking at the main topic of the Christian faith. More information on that will be available in coming weeks.
If you want to prepare for the kingdom, if you want to grow in your relationship with God, you have to spend time in worship, in prayer and in study.
The reality is that not nearly enough of us actually do that. We all think it’s a great idea and in a perfect world we would be involved in worship, prayer and study. But the world isn’t perfect and most of us fall short from time to time. Why is that? Here are the top three answers.
Number one: “I don’t have enough time. I’m busy. I have all kinds of things to do. Between the kids and the house and the job, I hardly have two seconds to myself.” Time, that’s the number one answer, isn’t it? “Pastor, I’d love to do those things but it’s just one more thing to do. How am I ever going to fit it into my busy day?” I want to share something with you. Studies show that the average adult in North America spends 100 minutes on social media every day. That includes various platforms from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. I actually thought it was going to be more than that.
Now add to that the fact that the average Canadian spends thirty hours every week watching TV. That’s four hours every day. Just to show you how ridiculous this can get, if you just watched the commercials you would see forty-seven ads on TV every day. That adds up to 17,000 every year. If you figure that the average commercial lasts thirty seconds that means that you spend almost 150 hours every year focused on lotteries, Acorn Stair Lift and cat food. Do you really not have enough time for God?
Do you remember what Paul said? “They do it for a crown that will not last, but we do it for a crown that will last forever.” What kind of crown are you looking for? A temporary one or an everlasting one?
The second reason people give for not worshiping, praying and studying is because they don’t think it’s important. Let’s go back to Paul’s words: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” How important is eternity? The early Christians thought it was important. Otherwise why would they have spent so much time in worship, prayer and study? Look at Jesus. He practices all of these things too. And so should we.
The third reason why people don’t practice these disciplines is because they don’t think it will make a difference. If you believe that then you have not experienced the fulness of Christ in your life. It’s difficult to pick just one example where worship, prayer and study have made a difference because there are just so many of them. There are examples in the Bible and there are examples in the lives of everyday people even today. I cannot tell you personally how any times having a close relationship with God has seen me through tough times. Sometimes knowing that God is there is the only thing that has enabled faithful Christians to get through the difficult times of life. Worship, prayer and study were important, are important and they will always be important.
LENT – A GOOD TIME TO BEGIN
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During Lent we often talk about giving things up. This year, I have another challenge for you. Rather than giving up something for Lent, I want you to add something, start a new habit. Worship, prayer and study: which of these three do you need to work on? I don’t necessarily want you to work on all of them at once. That’s asking a lot. But you can successfully work on one. Pick one and see what you can do during the forty days of Lent to improve your preparation.
Are you a bit lax in your worship attendance? Make a commitment during Lent to be in worship at least once every week. Maybe you worship here. Maybe you go someplace else. Maybe your work schedule or some other activity takes you away from Sunday morning worship. Sometimes I go an evening worship at another church. You can too. There’s a Saturday evening mass at the Catholic Church. Because of the pandemic, there are suddenly all kinds of online worship options as well. You’re looking at one right now. There’s no reason why you can’t take part. Just look at the options.
Maybe worship is not your issue. Maybe it’s prayer. Make a commitment to spend time in prayer every day. Start by saying grace at every meal. That means at home, at work, at school, at a restaurant, anywhere. Bow your head and thank God for the food. Then add some intentional time with God. Maybe you start with five minutes a day the first week and then build it up a few minutes every week during Lent. You can pray on your knees or sitting in a chair. You can pray when you are in line at the grocery store or when you’re driving your car. Prayer is very versatile. You can do it anywhere. In fact, you should do it anywhere. During Lent, work on your prayer life.
Maybe you want to work on your study habits. The easiest way to start studying the Bible is to start reading it. Did you know that few Christians have actually read through the entire Bible cover to cover. I’m not going to suggest that you do that over the forty days of Lent. That would be pretty tough slugging. What could you do during Lent? How about reading through the four Gospels. They contain eighty-nine chapter. That means that if you read two chapters a day from Monday to Saturday and one chapter every Sunday, you’d finish reading them on Easter Sunday. That’s doable. If you want a bit more of a challenge, try reading through the New Testament. It contains 260 chapters. Five to six chapters every day will get you through by Easter. That’s a great place to start. There are also lots of online study guides out there if you want to Google it. We won’t be getting our online studies going until after Easter but, if you need to, you can wait and start then.
Worship, prayer and study, these are three important things for us to do as we prepare for God’s coming kingdom. Which one do you need to work on? Pick one of them as your Lenten project this year and do the training that will help prepare you for the kingdom.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Heavenly Father, your light fills the morning sky in radiance and wonder. Even in the night, the lights of heaven mark off the days and give direction to those who have lost their way. Shine upon us. Fill us and renew us. Make us conscious of your presence with us and within us. We call upon your name which is, for us, a sign of wholeness and salvation. Wash us in the blood of your wounds that we may be whiter than snow.
Fill us with your grace, O God, and enable us to draw ever closer to you. Keep our eyes focused on you and your way of doing things. Help us during the upcoming Lenten season to prepare ourselves for you kingdom were every tear shall be wiped away.
We pray for the Church, for Christians all over the world of every nation and denomination. Thank you that, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we are one. May we, in unity, reach out to the world with your message of hope, reconciliation and peace. We pray, especially today, for our neighbouring United Churches in Wheatley, Essex, Woodslee, and Kingsville. Thank you for the mutual support that is available when needed. Thank you for their prayers.
We lift up in prayer those who suffer loss. Especially today we pray for the family and friends of Carson McCauley. Be with them in their grief and bless them with your healing Spirit that they may come to a place of peace
We think about those who have been sick this week either at home or in hospital. Grant all of us, your Healing Spirit that you may reign in our hearts as you touch our minds and bodies. We also pray for the front line staff and essential workers that help our society to continue to function.
God of all Creation, inspire us to live beyond ourselves. Enable us to be the Christian story to the people of this world. May we be faithful to your call and loving in our actions. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 14, 2021 / Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Mark 1:40-45; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
CALL TO WORSHIP
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
Let us praise the One who has lifted us up.
Let us praise the One who restored our lives.
Let us praise the One who grants us eternal love.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
In wonders, great and small, we see your strength and gentleness. We hear your goodness in the laughter of a young child and in the wise words of seniors. We feel your tenderness in a supportive hand upon our shoulders and in the silence of a still, quiet night. We call to you and you and there. We think of you and you touch our spirits. We worship you and you honour our praise. How great and giving you are, O God of the Ages. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, we come to you as people who fall short of your holy purpose. We have sinned in thought, word and deed. Forgive us when we fail to live with compassion. Even during those times when others intend to do us harm, you care for us. We are grateful that we do not have to fear because your mercy and grace will never fail. Help us to forgive those who either have or intend to harm us. Enable us to know that you will provide for our every need. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The infinite love of God has brought us home from the eternal abyss of sin. Whenever our sinfulness leads us away from the way of God, the gentle hand of our Creator draws us back into the circles of mercy and love. We give thanks to the One who gave his life for all.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Many and great are your blessings, O God. You have given us in great abundance. We offer back to you all that we have, represented by these tithes and offerings. Bless these gifts and the givers, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go into the world with a tender and daring love to do the work of Jesus Christ. And all that you do, do it for love, and by the power of the Spirit.