Here’s a little about the author: Alicia holds a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation from George Fox Seminary and serves as the founding director and lead mentor of Leadership Investment Intensives (www.leadershipii.com), a nonprofit devoted to providing customized soul-care for leaders in business and ministry.
In 40 Days of Decrease, she poses different questions designed to encourage daily pondering rather than guiding the reader to focus on one single sacrifice. Traditionally people give up something like sugar, TV or social media for Lent, however Chole’s approach is to bring the reader through the days leading up the Jesus’ Crucifixion in John while at the same time offering a history of the Church practice of Lent through the centuries. She asks:
What if you fasted regret? What if your friends fasted comparison? What if your generation fasted escapism? What if your community fasted spectatorship? Such heart-fasts could trigger a spiritual revolution!From 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole
As with many things in church history the practice of Lent has gone through several evolutions. Chole doesn’t comment on what is “right or wrong” she simply presents different traditions. Each day includes a reflection of the Bible verses, historical information about Lent, a challenge to fast something, and a reading in John that begins the next day’s reflection.
Lent began in February this year and obviously this book was written years before we experienced a global pandemic, however, each day I found myself in awe as present-day news and Chole’s reflections around the days leading up to Jesus’ Crucifixion called for similar considerations.
Chole encouraged daily fasts that created space for reflection in the following areas:
- Loving your neighbor
- Truth from fiction
- Poor leadership
- Identify crisis
- Reflecting on how we would spend our last days if we could choose
- Dancing in the dark days to display trust
- Reality vs. Hypocrisy
- Restricted freedom
Throughout the 40 days of Lent, I was continually reminded there is nothing is new under the sun just like it says in Ecclesiastes. I found this oddly comforting, even if it was also a bit gut-wrenching some days. Ultimately, the reminder that Jesus understands our anguish, fear, and hope that God will intercede and change our circumstances was comforting. The fact that Jesus followed through even when his circumstances didn’t change, especially after he spent sp much time loving the disciples and reminding them to love their neighbor was a timely reminder of Jesus’s compassionate love for us even though it was incredibly painful for him.
Ultimately, my hope was that focusing on this devotional over the Lenten days would be another layer of perspective on my OneWord for 2020 which is Pursue. Most days I spent time reflecting on the challenge Chole posed. No challenge was easy enough to resolve in a 24-hour period. In fact, my guess is many would take a lifetime to master.
Our Responses Matter
In the last few days of the devotional Chole shifts to remind the reader that the disciples spent time mourning the loss of a dream. Their teacher and friend died before their eyes and with it so did the future they thought they were planning together.
Chole points out that even though we may be drawn to numb ourselves in seasons of mourning and grief spiritual formation calls us to a different response. God pursues our hearts and asks us to trust him even when we’re facing an unknown future.
“Celebrate with praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us his extravagant mercy. For his fountain of mercy has given us a new life—we are reborn to experience a living, energetic hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are reborn into a perfect inheritance that can never perish, never be defiled, and never diminish. It is promised and preserved forever in the heavenly realm for you! Through our faith, the mighty power of God constantly guards us until our full salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time. May the thought of this cause you to jump for joy, even though lately you’ve had to put up with the grief of many trials. But these only reveal the sterling core of your faith, which is far more valuable than gold that perishes, for even gold is refined by fire. Your authentic faith will result in even more praise, glory, and honor when Jesus the Anointed One is revealed. You love him passionately although you did not see him, but through believing in him you are saturated with an ecstatic joy, indescribably sublime and immersed in glory. For you are reaping the harvest of your faith—the full salvation promised you—your souls’ victory!”
For me, what stood out about 40 Days of Decrease was how Jesus pursued relationships with the disciples up until the last moments he was with them. He modeled for them how to care for each other and when he was gone they instinctively gathered back together to support each other. Jesus knew Judas would hand him to his enemies and he knew Peter would betray him three times before he hung on the cross. He knew his mother would need someone to lean on and John would take the job seriously. He knew his friends intimately, and he knows us intimately too because he pursues relationships with us as well.
I’m thankful for the opportunities to pause and reflect over the past 40 days and while this is a study that focuses on Lent I encourage you to consider carving out time to go through this devotional anytime you’re looking to reflect on your relationship with Jesus and flesh out ways you may need to purge your opinions for God’s because the more we reflect Christ the more peace we’ll find within ourselves. I know because I’m currently living through a global pandemic and most days I describe myself as grateful.