By Marek P. Zabriskie
I remember hearing about an Episcopalian in Mississippi who proudly informed his bishop that he was forgoing white chocolate for Lent. The bishop was astounded by how the man had trivialized Lent.
Unless he had an enormous dependency on white chocolate, his sacrifice seemed comical. We, too, can easily fail to take advantage of Lent as a time for spiritual transformation. Christians customarily give up something for Lent as a spiritual discipline. Lent can also be a great time to take on a spiritual discipline so that God may renew us.
Lent is for a Christian what pre-season training is for an athlete. It is a wonderful time to get spiritually in shape in order to live a more fruitful Christian life. Everyone likes being physically fit. Spiritual fitness is equally rewarding.
I like the notion of feasting and fasting for Lent. Feast on reading the Bible each day and fast on criticism. Feast on praying each day and fast on drinking alcohol. Feast on writing a letter to a friend or family member each day and fast using social media other than for work.
The Book of Common Prayer offers this invitation to us as the penitential season of Lent begins:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
Lent is an exceptional time to go further in our spiritual journeys by committing to a daily spiritual practice that will strengthen our relationship with God, transform our life and help us to be more fully the person that God intends us to be. It is a wonderful time to begin the Bible Challenge, either as an individual or with a group of friends or family or with members of our church or diocese. Each year, parishes, schools and dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion have participated in the Read the Bible in a Year Lent-to-Lent Bible Challenge with the assistance of our simple reading plan.
We now have over 500,000 participants in the Bible Challenge, with more than 2,500 churches, schools and cathedrals in over 40 countries participating and more than 45 bishops leading their entire diocese in the Bible Challenge.
This is vital because Episcopalians are the best-educated Christian group out of 21,896 different Christian groups in the United States, but we rank almost last in terms of our biblical literacy. We simply do not know our own narrative. The average Episcopalian attends church once a month, which is not enough to make a spiritual difference in our lives. While we read lots of Scripture aloud in church, 90-95 percent of what we hear is forgotten within 72 hours. What we lack in general as Episcopalians is a commitment to daily spiritual disciplines, which build strong Christian lives.
Hence, the Bible Challenge provides a daily spiritual practice that helps Episcopalians, Anglicans and anyone who participates in it to learn the biblical narrative. It is a year-long challenge, as opposed to a normal 40-day Lenten discipline, but the spiritual rewards are great.
Our reading plan helps you to read all of the books of the Bible in sequence, providing three chapters of the Old Testament, a Psalm and a chapter of the New Testament each day to provide lots of daily spiritual sustenance.
We encourage readers to read the assigned lessons each Monday through Saturday and to hear Scriptures read aloud in church on Sunday. The Bible is best understood in the context of a faith community and by persons who are committed to following Jesus’ teachings in their daily life.
Merely hearing the Scriptures read aloud on Sunday is not enough to know and to experience the life-transforming Word of God. We invite you to put yourself in the presence of God before you begin reading the Bible. Read with a desire to understand and follow the teachings of Scripture so that your life might be transformed by the Holy Spirit working within you as the Word of God is revealed to you. We wish you every blessing in your faithful daily Bible reading.
For more help in reading the Bible each day, we invite you to visit the Center for Biblical Studies website, where you will find the Lent-to-Lent Bible Challenge 2015 under our Resources section — and lots of other resources to assist you.
The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie is rector of St. Thomas’ Church in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, founder of the Bible Challenge, and director of the Center for Biblical Studies.