Sermon transcript, 22 February 2015

“Lent is not a haircut – Lent is pruning” by Fr. Dana


The Lord spoke to me this week and told me, “Lent is not a haircut – Lent is pruning.”  If I go to the barber and he cuts my hair, it doesn’t matter how short he cuts it – he could cut it all off and shave it bald – but in a few weeks or months it would look just as it does now.  There would be a temporary change, but then it would be back to where it was.  If that’s all Lent is, why do we do it?

But that‘s not what Lent is – it’s a pruning.  Suppose you have a tree that starts growing would look balanced and even.  You prune the tree to change its shape and direction.

In Lent we can give up something – not so that we can go around saying “I can’t have that – I gave up chocolate for Lent” and people can think “Wow!  S/he’s really strong!”  Jesus says when you fast, don’t have a sad face, but wash, smile and be happy, because if you go around with a long face and people say, “Oh, he’s such a spiritual man: he must be in deep sorrow”, that’s your reward. (Matthew 6:16-17)  That’s not God’s idea of giving something up: His idea is to remove things that cause us to grow crooked.  That could be lots of things; certainly it’s sin – hopefully you don’t wait till Lent to give up sin – but it could also be things that aren’t necessarily bad: food, certain foods, TV, Facebook (now I hit a nerve!)… things that we become dependent on instead of depending upon God.

Lent is also a time to take on some things.  If you give up something, it makes room.  If I give up something, it takes time, so now I have more time.  Good – I can do whatever I want: I can sleep longer…  No – that’s not the purpose.  I’m called to take on something, not so that people will see, but if I drink a Starbucks coffee every day – triple latte, over the rainbow – I now have a lot more money to spend – on myself?  No – doing the Lord’s work.  But I know I’m not to go around saying “Look at me…” because Jesus also said when you give – when you do good – don’t make a show of it, but do it in secret; because if people say “Yes – you’re the man!”, that’s your reward.  He says do it in secret and I will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

But it’s not just for the period of Lent.  Remember, we’re pruning.  We change our behaviour during Lent, and we learn some things: God speaks to us, He deals with us…  And at the end of Lent, if we say, “That was great; now it’s Easter and I’m going back to the way it was”, then we only had a haircut.  In a week or a month we’ll look just as we did before.  That’s not Lent.  If at the end of Lent we look just as we did before Lent began, Lent had no purpose – at least, not the purpose that God intended.  Perhaps we continue doing without some things: perhaps we gave up TV, and we go back to watching TV, but not near as much as before; we found out that we could live without it.  Perhaps we spent ten more minutes in prayer (it doesn’t have to be a long time: God rewards a little bit) and we can keep those ten minutes: don’t give them back.  Now Lent is starting to have a purpose and an effect in our lives.

Re-ordering our priorities

Lent is designed to re-order our priorities, from doing what we want to do, to listening more and doing more of what He wants us to do.  Read Psalm 25:4-5: “Replace my patterns with Your patterns; make me more like Jesus”.

Do you know what I mean by priorities?

I have a jar, a potato, an orange, a kiwi, and oatmeal.  Suppose this jar is your life, and you can fill your life with all kinds of things.  For example, God can be in your life (I’m not saying that God is a potato); the potato can represent God in your life: He’s big and touches all the areas that are important.  The orange represents your family: you may be married; you may have children… people who are important to you.  The kiwi is your role: if you’re working it may be your career; if you’re not working, you may be a mother or a caregiver.  The oatmeal represents everything else in your life; these things usually scream a lot louder than the others: they demand attention.  “Help, I need you!  Come, fix this!”  In America we call this “the tyranny of the urgent”: you’re doing something important, then something little comes along and hounds you until you stop and address it.

You have a life; your life has a certain capacity.  How do you fill your life?  [Fill the jar with oatmeal.]  Well, these things are urgent; we’ve got to get them out of our hair, right?  These are all of those annoying, nagging things in life that have to be dealt with.  And so we fill our any more.  So that’s fixed.  Let’s see now – I’ve got a job, I’ve got to go to work; if I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid; if I don’t get paid, I don’t support the family.  [Place the kiwi in the jar on top of the oatmeal.]  Oh yes, the family – the ones I’m working for.  [Place the orange in the jar on top of the kiwi; it doesn’t completely fit.]  Wait a minute – I don’t even have room for all the family.  We can’t go to the park on Saturday – I’ve got to work… sorry…  [Notice that there is no space left for the potato.]  Oh, God – sorry, God; I’ll give you 30 seconds while I’m in the shower; I can do two things at once…

If that’s how we fill our life, based on how loudly they clamour for our attention, we’ve got problems.  What if we take a different approach?  [Empty the contents of the jar.]

Let’s go by importance.  What’s most important?  If I love my family, God had better be first.  He gets first place, first time, first finances, first consideration, first devotion. [Place the potato into the empty jar.]  Then family: love your wife; honour your husband; love your children: they’re next.  [Place the orange on top of the potato.]  That role has to go in there too: I have to do something with my life.  [Place the kiwi on top of the orange.]  The three important things are in there; what about all the annoying stuff, the things that have to be done?  Stop and pray – You and me, God, let’s address these things… pray some more… [Pour the oatmeal into the jar, shaking it at times so that it fills the empty gaps around the other contents.  It all fits.]  It all fits – if you put God first, look what happens: amazing!  That’s how God wants us to live our life; He’ll help us to deal with all those annoying things.

Think about your life: which method do you use to fill your life?  If it isn’t this way, are you really surprised that you go crazy, that you don’t have time, that you don’t have finances, that you don’t have energy, or that you don’t have the emotional fortitude to deal with all the people, events and stuff in your life?   Can we learn something from this?  The great thing is that this applies to every area of our life.

  • If we give God first in our time, He will add hours to the day.  He won’t make the day longer than 24 hours, but He will help us to go through the day doing the things that are important, addressing those things that need to be addressed and letting go of those things that don’t need to be addressed.
  • It’s true of our emotional energy: if we worship the Lord – that doesn’t mean that every morning you have to get out the keyboard and sing: that isn’t the only way you worship; prayer is worship; talking and listening to God is worship – He restores our soul.  He gives us what we need for the day, including emotional supply.
  • It’s also true in our finances: if we give God first, He will provide what we need.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also

In fact, according to Scripture, our priorities are a measure of our heart (Matthew 6:21).  Where do you spend your time?  That’s where your heart is.  Where do you spend your money?  That’s where your heart is.  Where do you spend all your emotional energy?  That’s where your heart is.  If you spend the greatest amount of time and effort making money, that’s where your heart is.  If you spend the greatest amount of your money accumulating things for yourself, that’s where your heart is.  Wherever you apply your energy, your money and your time, that’s where your heart is; and He says give Him first place (Matthew 6:31-33).  You don’t need a £200 dress.  Put the potato in first.  Give God first: time, talent, treasure, emotions, all of it.

Read Malachi 3:10.  A tithe is not what guys wear around their neck; it is the first 10 percent of your earnings.  In the OT since it was mostly a bartering economy it was mostly crops, animals and food; that’s why it says bring them into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  That’s where the Priests’ food supply came from; people’s tithes went to support those who worked in the temple.  We know that He wants the first 10% because it’s reflected in what He says about the sacrifices that people were to bring: He says bring a perfect, unblemished animal – not the scruffy leftovers after you’ve sold all the good ones, the lame ones, the one that’s a funny colour, the one that only has one eye… (Malachi 1:8, 13)  God asks for our best – our first 10%.  Only 10% – look at your tax bill: when was the last time the government only took 10%?  What is the VAT rate?  Why does the State deserve more than God does?  Yet He only asks for 10%.

But He is saying: “Give it to Me first, and I will provide for you: I will bless you with all these things.”  This is not bribery even though some people preach that.  It is a promise to you, so that you can trust in His Word and His provision, instead of thinking “If I let go of this I will starve”.  He says, “I will provide; I will give you a harvest”; He doesn’t want us to give grudgingly – “All right, You asked for it, here it is, that’s gone – now I’ll see if I can live on the other 90%.”  Read II Corinthians 9:6-7.  If a farmer plants seed only in one little garden spot, it will only bear grain in one spot; if he plants seventeen fields with it, seventeen fields will be full of a crop.  But that’s not the point: “God, I don’t know how You’re going to provide, because I really need this, but I’m going to trust You.”

Some will preach “Give in order to get”: “If you send in this much, I guarantee that sometime this month someone will give you ten times that much.”  God never does that: He never, ever, ever appeals to your greed in order to get you to do the right thing (“Don’t have sex before marriage: I’ll make you rich”) – He tells you what’s right.  He’s not trying to manipulate you – He’s trying to teach you how He works.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15); He doesn’t say, “If you want to get rich, keep My commandments”.

The tithe is a good example; because where your treasure is, there your heart is also.  Edye and I have tithed through good times, bad times and unemployed times.  I was unemployed for over a year in one stretch, and He still provided.  If I received $10,000 a month, we tithed that; if I received $122 a month, we tithed that: He doesn’t ask for more.  That doesn’t mean He isn’t pleased if we give more.  Remember the widow who put the two mites in the temple: she didn’t give 10%; she gave 100%, and Jesus commended her for it.  The point is that God has always been faithful to provide – not always exactly what we wanted (“I’m believing for this house” – “I’ll give you this one”.  “I’m believing for this great job” – “We’ll give you this one, and you have to move 3,000 miles away.”), but He’s always given us what we needed, because He knows what we need, better than we know ourselves.  We still tithe: we receive a salary from the church; 10% of that goes to the Diocese.  Bp. Elmer tithes: 10% of what he receives goes to the Province; and the Province tithes: 10% goes to the Patriarch.  That’s what frees people up to do the ministry, and helps us (like Foundation Day) to plant new churches, to loan money to churches to have their own building; that’s what helps us to send money to poorer countries to help them out, so we can do the work of the Church, the work of Christ; that’s how the work of the Church gets done.

God starts with us where we are; He’s not asking us to do what we can’t do, but He’s asking us to do what we can; He’s asking us to put the potato first.  Finances is an example; you can do the same thing with time: “I have to get up early in the morning; I have to rush to catch the tube; I have to go to work, and it’s crazy and they don’t give me a lunch hour; and I don’t get home until 9, and I have to eat, and then there’s that show that only lasts 30 minutes but I’ve got to see it every night; and then I’m so worn out that I’ve got to go to bed, and then I’ve got to get up and do the same thing again.  Sorry, God – ain’t no room for the potato.” God says, “Change – give Me a chance.”  That’s what Lent is about: give God a chance.  For the six weeks of Lent, give up that 30-minute show; take a break at work and pray, sitting at your desk in the office; or whatever the Lord leads you to do.

We have a choice

When we fill our lives, we have to make choices.  We have a choice.  “Oh, but my job is this, and I have to do that…”  Is that the only job you could have, that it has to take 16 hours a day?  I’m not condemning you, or saying that’s the case; but there are always options to change what you’re doing, to change your priorities: to change our priorities to match His priorities; and that’s what Lent is for, so that when we come out of Lent we look different, we walk differently, we act differently, our heart is different.  Our heart will be more aligned to God’s priorities and the ministries that he wants to do through the church, through you individually – You have a ministry: I don’t care what you do for a living, whether you’re married or not, whether you’re 12 years old or 112 – God has a ministry for you, but you have to be sensitive to Him and sensitive to your surroundings for Him to do that.  But that’s His heart, for those ministries to happen.

And so I ask that you would seek God and ask, “What is it that You want me to do for Lent?  What do I need to do to start looking at my priorities (even if I’m not ready to change yet)?  What do I need to look at?  What are You telling me?”  And I pray that you will pray for all of us – for each of us individually, for the church, for the Rector’s Council, for the Bishop and the Bishop’s Council, the Patriarch and the Patriarch’s Council – that we will all do that same thing.  What are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing?  What’s not right in our heart?  What priorities need to change?  And then if we’re sensitive and we obey and we start walking the way He says – yes, we’ll still stumble and make mistakes, but He’ll change us, and through us He will change the world.  That’s what He did with the early Church: the Bible says they turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).  That’s my challenge for Lent.  Don’t let Lent be a haircut – let Lent be a pruning that changes you and changes me forever.