Corporate Lenten Disciplines: An Ash Wednesday Devotional from the President of IWS

Corporate Lenten Disciplines: An Ash Wednesday Devotional from the President of IWS

“I have sewn sackcloth over my skin, 
And laid my head in the dust.”

(Job 16:15 NKJV)

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. God calls us to observe a holy Lent through assessment, penitence, discipline and renewal, using the classical church practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Historically, the Church has set aside Lent as a time of intense instruction and formation in the faith, and a season of detachment, spiritual purification, and enlightenment for all Christians. Notice that prayer, fasting, almsgiving, even formation, are external practices, perhaps preferably communal external practices. As we do, so shall we be. External practices develop internal dispositions, detached from unhealthy, unworthy, or even unnecessary attachments.

Prayer When asked how to improve one’s prayer time, Thomas Merton is said to have responded, “Take the time.” Simply take the time to pray regularly, and you will become more prayerful.

Fasting Bodily pleasures, while not wrong in and of themselves, can become domineering. We fast from bodily pleasures so that the deeper spiritual hungers will arise. Live a fasted life while remembering and helping others less fortunate than ourselves.

Almsgiving In giving alms we acknowledge that the things we own are ultimately gifts from God. The right of private property carries a responsibility for the common good. We participate in that reality by generously and joyfully giving alms for the sake of others.

Other worthy practices: Love your neighbor as yourself, visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, help the oppressed, teach the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, evangelize the unbeliever, pray for the sick, comfort the sorrowful and widows, give shelter to the homeless and refugees. When you do these things for the very least of society, you do them for God. Mother Teresa said that is the summary of the Gospel: “You did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-46)

May our observance of a holy Lent help us all to grow in the fullness of the life of God

The Lord be with you,
James R. Hart, President 

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

I shared this with you for the past several years. St. Ephrem the Syrian is a 4th-century saint and doctor of the Church who is known especially for his hymn writing. Here is one of St. Ephrem’s prayers, said to be the Lenten prayer “par excellence” and prayed in the Eastern Church every weekday of Lent.

O Lord and Master of my life,
keep from me the spirit of indifference
and discouragement,
lust of power, and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant,
the spirit of wholeness of being,
humble-mindedness, patience, and love.

O Lord and King,
grant me the grace to be aware of my sins
and not to judge my brother and sister,
for You are blessed,
now and ever and forever. Amen.

— St. Ephrem the Syrian

I want to commend this prayer of St. Ephrem to you for your Lenten devotion. Pray it daily, perhaps even twice each day. Let the words sink into your soul as you allow God to work in you, putting off bodily addictions and taking on divine virtues. Strive for great detachment from worldly attachments with great love toward God and others. St. John of the Cross wrote, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on earthly possessions and human success, but rather on how much we have loved.”

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart has served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies since 2007. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.
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