Is it fasting from meat, fish on Fridays? What do you practice for the 40 days of Lent? Does it take 40 days or more to make a consistent behavior a habit? “Giving up” things in order to focus more upon Christ seems to have turned into a competition rather than a way of drawing closer to Christ.
Years ago Catherine Marshall presented an idea that I find challenges most everyone I speak to about it. How about this Lenten season fasting from criticism, gossip or thinking you always have to present your opinion? Yowl! that hits us all.
Recently I purchased a book entitled LENT with the Desert Fathers, by Thomas McKenzie. I was drawn up short on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday by this quote.
A disciple said to Abba Sisois, “I would love to be able to keep guard over my heart.” Sisois replied, “How can you keep guard over your hearts if your mouth is like an open door?”Lent with the Desert Fathers
Well that nails it for me! I could write for days on that alone. From my journal: “Set a watch over the door of my mouth. Help me be slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to listen. (James 1:19) And listen well.”
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.Proverbs 4:23
We are admonished to guard our heart. Something we need to do; this will not be done for us. Sisois taught that if my mouth is like an open door there is no guarding happening. There is no discipline in place.
If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.James 1:26 CSB
There is a jet flying east to west. At the moment the contrail is quite clear. Moments later the jet is out of sight but the contrail remains as a wavering white line against the blue sky. More moments and the exhaust from that jet is partially covered by clouds, yet what came out of that jet remains in the atmosphere. So it is with our words. The jet cannot take that contrail back. Our words once spoken are out there for eternity.
When the Psalmist prayed Psalm 141:3 asking the Lord to set a guard over the mouth, keep watch over the door of the lips I do not believe it means the Lord will do the watching and guarding for me. I do know the Holy Spirit is able to convict me when I speak in ways that displease the Lord. The Spirit is able to strengthen me to watch and guard so I do not continue to grieve the Trinity. I must yield to being sensitive and obedient to the leadings of the Spirit for that to happen; a moment to moment obedience. Willingness to walk and talk in obedience. Also willingness to not talk when called for.
Catherine Marshall attended a group luncheon frequently with family and co-workers. She was amazed how the conversation carried on even when she decided to not express her opinion. What she thought was so essential turned out to not be essential at all.
How about us? Are we sincere when we say “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 Or more likely do we even stop to think before we speak? In Proverbs we are told that those who guard the mouth, lips, tongue preserve their lives, keep themselves from calamity. Those who speak rashly will come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3, 21:23). It is within our power to do this. If it proves difficult we can ask the Spirit for help.
The Book of Common prayer and other liturgies say “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim Your praise.” Oh I pray that is the only thing that will come out when we open our lips, His praise! May the force of Christ be with you this Lent and always. I will with God’s help!