“What are you giving up for Lent?” we are asked. Our minds begin to whirl: Chocolate? Designer coffee? Social media? Forty days later, some feel disappointed in their efforts (it was a limited-time blend . . . ), some feel surprised by their success (didn’t even miss it . . . ), but perhaps precious few feel spiritually renewed.
Can such fasts alone truly prepare us to celebrate Easter? Or any other chosen time of reflection during the year?
Or could it be that before we can be duly awed by resurrection, we need to daily honor crucifixion?
40 Days of Decrease emphasizes a different type of fast. What if you or your church fasted comparison? What if your family fasted accumulation? What if your office fasted gossip?
40 Days of Decrease guides readers through a study of Jesus’ uncommon and uncomfortable call to abandon the world’s illusions, embrace His kingdom’s reality, and journey cross-ward and beyond.
Each daily, 1000-word entry will include
- a devotional based on Jesus’ cross-ward life;
- a reflection question to guide journaling or group discussion;
- a fast to inspire a tangible response;
- a thought-provoking Lenten quote;
- a sidebar into the historical development of Lent.
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About the Author
An award-winning writer, Dr. Alicia Britt Chole’s messages address both head and heart and are often described as grace-filled surgeries. Alicia is a speaker, author, and leadership mentor who enjoys thunderstorms, jalapenos, and honest questions. To explore Alicia’s other books or learn more about her ministry, visit www.aliciabrittchole.com.
Read an Excerpt
40 Days of Decrease
A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast.
By Alicia Britt Chole
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Alicia Britt Chole
All rights reserved.
We ache deep within to meaningfully honor Christ's resurrection. Yet, in practice, this focal point in the liturgical calendar is often a celebration of public holiday more than it is of humanity's hope. At day's end, we fall asleep well fed and perhaps even grateful, yet still somehow something short of awed. Inspired by the church's ancient tradition of Lent, we then add discipline to the celebration, voluntarily adopting a form of temporary discomfort to self with the intention of bringing to mind the discomfort of the cross (which is unspeakable). And still, our twenty-first-century discomfort remains mild and our first-century remembrance remains meager.
Though what is specifically "given up for Lent" shifts from generation to generation, the broad categories of entertainment, pleasure, and food have remained constant through the centuries. Caffeine, chocolate, designer coffee, carbs, and social media currently rank among the more popular offerings. In an age suffocating in self, any willful fast from what much of the planet would deem a luxury is to be commended. However, since commendation cannot be confused with preparation, I must ask: can such polite fasts alone truly prepare us to be awed by Christ's resurrection?
In English, the Latin Mortem tuam annuntiámus, Dómine, et tuam resurrectiónem confitémur, donec vénias is translated as, "Your death we proclaim, Lord, and your resurrection we confess, until you come." This generation is, perhaps, more familiar with the popular adaption:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
Indeed. So, are we awed?
God seems more interested in what we are becoming than in what we are giving up. As David sang,
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17)
Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls. Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God.
Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.
Reflect upon your personal preparation for Easter to date. Recall any knowledge of the church's historical Lenten practices. If this is not your first experience, in what ways have you thinned your life in order to thicken your communion with God in previous seasons?
Now consider a key question: why are you setting aside forty days to honor Jesus' death and resurrection this year?
Today's Fast: Lent As Project
Lent is often, and understandably, described with project language. The season has a starting date, an ending date, and clear, quantifiable goals "to accomplish" in between. After Easter, consequently, we evaluate Lent with project language. We "did okay" or "only made it two weeks" or "kept our commitment" or "totally failed."
Whether engaging this experience prior to Easter, or at another time during the year, from day one, I invite you to consider Lent as less of a project and more of a sojourn. A sojourn is a "temporary stay at a place." And a "stay" is about presence, not productivity. For the next forty days, fast measuring your "success" statistically — that is, resist calculating how often you keep your commitment to do without meat or sugar or your favorite shows. Instead, invest your energy in seeking to remain present to the sacred history of Jesus' walk to the cross. With each reading, dust off your childhood imagination and "stay" in each story. Observe Jesus' response to John's death. Imagine yourself as one of the disciples trying in vain to hush blind Bartimaeus. Throw your only cloak under the colt's hooves as Jesus enters Jerusalem. Taste the mounting tension as Jesus offends leaders with parables. Hear Jesus predict Peter's denial.
Fast Lent as project and enter Lent as experience, as a sojourn with your Savior.
"What is your commitment this year, Mommy?" my daughter inquired with discerning eyes. The previous year, we both made commitments to honor the poor. Keona did what she loved and baked to raise funds for children in need. I devoted the entire year to simplicity, choosing to abstain from spending money on adding anything physical to my personal life — from shampoo to shoes. "This year I am fasting sugar and desserts," I replied. Then Keona offered one word that connected my then-t en-year-old with the wisest of ancient thinkers: "Why?"
My annual fasts, seasonal forty-day fasts, and weekly twelve- to twenty-tour-hour fasts are more love offerings than disciplines, though it certainly requires discipline to maintain them. In short, I ache. I ache for my Bridegroom. I ache to live every waking moment conscious of His presence. I ache to live aware of His past and present suffering. I ache to live unattached to what man counts and measures. In many ways, all fasts are Lenten experiences, and as with the history of Lent, it is difficult for me to discern which came first: the discipline of fasting or the journey of Lent. Did they grow up together? Did one mature into the other? Are they two distinct experiences that fused over time? These are the questions that, in part, make the early origins of Lent difficult to discern.
* * *
For daily readings, I have chosen to offer small passages (beginning with Jesus' anointing at Bethany) from the gospel of John. Savor these sentences like a perfect cup of coffee or chunk of chocolate. Place yourself in the story and let the words melt in your mind. Then journal your reflections about the day.
Today's Reading: John 12:1–11
Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us. It is about God. The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. The more there is of us, the less there is of God.
— EUGENE PETERSON
Though uttered with reference to his (and my) culture, Eugene Peterson's insight has global relevance, for it reveals the church's spiritualization of an insatiable narcissism. Self cannot satisfy self, no matter how frequently it feasts. Lent is a much-needed mentor in an age obsessed with visible, measurable, manageable, and tweetable increase, for it invites us to walk with Jesus and His disciples through darker seasons that we would rather avoid: grief, conflict, misunderstanding, betrayal, restriction, rejection, and pain. Then Easter leads us in celebration of salvation as the stunningly satisfying fruit of Jesus' sacred decrease. A thoughtful Lenten journey directly confronts our modern obsession with increase and introduces us to unexpected friends of spiritual formation.
At least since the Council of Nicea in AD 325, Lent has been a forty-day, communal focus upon the most disillusioning season of the first disciples' lives. Jesus, having confessed to be the Messiah, prophesies His soon-coming death. Jesus, who commands winds and waves, allows Himself to be arrested. Jesus, who bests the brightest Pharisees and Sadducees, refuses to defend Himself when falsely accused. Jesus, who raised others from the dead, chooses not to save Himself.
In Jesus' journey cross-ward, the disciples' illusions of what Jesus could and should do with His power were shattered by the reality of what Jesus actually did with His power, and their personal illusions of commitment-unto-death were shattered by the reality of fear-inspired self-protection. Meditating upon Jesus' suffering and the disciples' disillusionment creates a framework within which we can spiritually process our own loss of illusions and gaining of realities. This is critical, because in the words of Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III, "reality is where we meet God." Therefore, as Jesuit Robert F. Taft eloquently said, through Lent let us:
Enter into the desert of our hearts where, removed from side issues, we can face what we are, and in compunction, penthos, over that reality, let us ... [die] to self so that we may live for others, as we make vigil before the coming of the Lord.
French monk Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) spoke of "four degrees of love" in his little book, On the Love of God: love of self for self's sake, love of God for self's sake, love of God for God's sake, and love of self for God's sake. In light of Eugene Peterson's quote that began today's reading, ponder the difference between Clairvaux's first and fourth degrees of love.
Today's Fast: Regrets
Approaching a fresh endeavor can be both energizing and stressful. New is inspiring. New is enlightening. And new is, oddly enough, a reminder of what is now old. When fresh beginnings are stalked by the memories of stale endings, a sickly substance can steal our strength: regret. Regret empties anticipation, flattens dreams, and suffocates hope, because regret is a form of self-punishment. Whereas hindsight helps us learn from the past, regret beats us up with the past.
So for one entire day (or go for forty), I invite you to fast regret. Do not feed it. Do not give it space. Let it go: God's mercies are "new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). And meditate on Jesus' glorious promise from Revelation 21:5: "I am making everything new!"
Before us lies a two-thousand-year-old heirloom quilt. Some portions are missing. They have slipped into the dark chasm of lost history, leaving nothing but space and speculation. Other portions are obviously unoriginal. They bear the loving evidence of a repatching, a rezoning, an offering of newer fabric sewn by less ancient hands.
Much work has been done by many scholars to reconstruct what is now absent, to track the origin of what remains, to trace the source of each worn, faith-sewn thread back to its beginnings. However, beginnings are mysterious things: part breath, part hope, part fumble, part grace. Roots are, historically, perhaps the most humble of God's creations on earth. They require neither acknowledgment nor praise. Their reward is reaped when the living stand upon them and reach for the fruit the roots made possible. Such is the story of Lent. The weighty beauty of this heirloom rests not in its satisfyingly discernible beginning, but in the warmth of soul it still offers to communities and individuals today.
Today's Reading: John 12:12–19
He must become greater; I must become less.
— JOHN 3:30
Decrease is a spiritual necessity. John the Baptist was the first among Jesus' followers to grasp its countercultural power. "Less is more" is a popular simplicity mantra in our day. But John's understanding of "less is more" was spiritually profound. Gabriel had announced John's life-calling to Zechariah before John was even conceived: John was the one who, "in the spirit and power of Elijah ... [would] make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). In many ways, John lived a Lenten lifestyle 365 days a year. His diet was narrow, his possessions were minimal, and his focus was eternal. But decrease for John was less about assets and more about attention. His longing was to draw his generation's attention and allegiance to the Messiah. From John's perspective, the true value of people seeing him was that people would then be positioned to see through him and gaze at Jesus. By willingly decreasing, John increased others' view of the Savior.
Attention is not innately evil. It becomes evil when used as a self-serving end instead of a God-serving means. Those who steward attention as means and not end stand tall and serve strong, knowing that all gifts come from God and can therefore draw attention to God. Praise slides off such souls like water off a window into a cup that is offered to God alone. Surrounded by swelling crowds, John directed his fans to Jesus.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." (John 1:29–31)
John decreased so others could see the Lamb. John decreased so others could follow the One who preceded and surpassed him (John 1:30). John decreased so that the Messiah would be revealed in John's lifetime. May our decrease likewise increase our generation's view of Jesus.
In his day, a psalmist sang: "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness" (Psalm 115:1). Think of models in your lifetime of individuals who — like the psalmist in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament — used the attention they received to increase others' view of God. Then reflect on ways that you are following (or in the future can follow) their example.
Today's Fast: Collecting Praise
Biographer Carole C. Carlson said of Corrie Ten Boom:
Her remarkable ministry became known to millions through both the book and movie version of The Hiding Place. She never looked at fame as being the culmination of personal triumph. To Corrie it was simply a result of God's plans. Her way of handling adulation was to take each compliment as a flower, and then gather them all in a bouquet and give them back to Jesus by saying, "Here Lord, they belong to You."
Make an effort today to follow Corrie's example and fast collecting praise. The key to this fast is redirection, not deflection. Whereas deflection discounts and rejects praise, redirection stewards and then deposits praise at the feet of the One to whom it is due. Sincerely receive any affirmation today without apology and then tonight, offer Jesus a bouquet of praise. If at day's end you find your intended bouquet sparse, fill it in with gratitude for God's work in your life.
The etymology of the word Lent enjoys an easy consensus among scholars. In earlier times, the English word Lent carried the meaning of "springtime." As The Lenten Triodion poetically states, "Lent signifies not winter but spring, not darkness but light, not death but renewed vitality." According to Fr. William P Saunders, professor of catechetics and theology at Christendom's Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria, the Anglo-Saxon word lectentid "literally means not only 'springtide' but also was the word for 'March,' the month in which the majority of Lent falls." In Greek, Lent is tessarakosti, and in Latin, quadragesima, both of which emphasize the number forty, a number rich in biblical significance.
In origin, however, Lent's history is far less obvious. Fifty years ago, the history of Lent could have been penned with greater certainty ... and with greater error. Scholars affirm that we simply know less than we used to about Lent. Catholic scholar Nicholas V. Russo explains that, "today the history of Lent's origins is far less certain because many of the suppositions upon which the standard theory rested have been cast into doubt."
Today's Reading: John 12:20–28
Whereas decreasing in attention is evident at the beginning of John's public ministry, decreasing in confidence is evident toward the end. The latter is infinitely more trying than the former. When mumblers came to John asking how he could have possibly overlooked requiring the new guy to sign a non-compete clause, John's Jordan River proclamation was a manifesto:
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (John 3:29)
Excerpted from 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. Copyright © 2015 Alicia Britt Chole. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
DAY ONE: LENT AS PROJECT, 1,
DAY TWO: REGRETS, 7,
DAY THREE: COLLECTING PRAISE, 11,
DAY FOUR: ARTIFICIAL LIGHT, 15,
DAY FIVE: TIDY FAITH, 21,
DAY SIX: SPEEDING PAST SORROW, 25,
DAY SEVEN: A MEAL, 29,
DAY EIGHT: FIXING IT, 33,
DAY NINE: RATIONALISM, 37,
DAY TEN: AVOIDANCE, 43,
DAY ELEVEN: RELIGIOUS PROFILING, 47,
DAY TWELVE: ISOLATION, 53,
DAY THIRTEEN: STINGINESS, 59,
DAY FOURTEEN: SPECTATORSHIP, 65,
DAY FIFTEEN: SPIRITUAL SELF-PROTECTION, 69,
DAY SIXTEEN: HALOS, 75,
DAY SEVENTEEN: APATHY, 79,
DAY EIGHTEEN: APPEARANCES, 85,
DAY NINETEEN: REVISIONISM, 91,
DAY TWENTY: LEAVENED BREAD, 97,
DAY TWENTY-ONE: PREMATURE RESOLUTION, 103,
DAY TWENTY-TWO: SOUND, 109,
DAY TWENTY-THREE: ARMCHAIR JESUS, 113,
DAY TWENTY-FOUR: NEUTRALITY, 119,
DAY TWENTY-FIVE: DENIAL, 125,
DAY TWENTY-SIX: COMPARISON, 129,
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: DISCONTENTMENT, 135,
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: FORMULAS, 141,
DAY TWENTY-NINE: INTIMIDATION, 147,
DAY THIRTY: SELF-CONFIDENCE, 153,
DAY THIRTY-ONE: MOCKING JESUS, 159,
DAY THIRTY-TWO: ADDITION, 165,
DAY THIRTY-THREE: WILLFUL SIN, 171,
DAY THIRTY-FOUR: CRITICISM, 177,
DAY THIRTY-FIVE: GOD-AS-JOB, 183,
DAY THIRTY-SIX: WITHHOLDING, 189,
DAY THIRTY-SEVEN: YOUR VOICE, 195,
DAY THIRTY-EIGHT: ESCAPISM, 203,
DAY THIRTY-NINE: GUARDING TOMBS, 209,
DAY FORTY: FASTING, 215,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, 247,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was difficult for me on a personal level but really helped me break down a lot of walls and learn about Jesus on a personal level.
What if Lent wasn't meant to be just a period of duty-bound deprivation? What if it could be a season of preparation, where a time of renunciation helps set our soul right and readies it for Resurrection fullness? It is Alicia's conviction that we need to recover this second view of Lent, and that if we did, it would become a meaningful part of the cycle of faith. Lent: waiting, watching, wondering, making space inside to holding the hard things and the sacred sadness. And then, we awaken to Easter-day fullness, where death gives way to life everlasting and everything is rewritten in light of an empty tomb. Alicia's heart is captivated by this mystery, and her writing spills over with awe. This is definitely an accessible and enriching read. Many of her forty chosen "fasts" resonated strongly with me. For example, one day she suggests we fast from trying to find quick-fixes. Some things do not reach resolution in a hurry, some aspects of life never tie up in a bow, some things have no fix at all- they simply have to be lived with. Another day we fast from noise, intentionally choosing silence for a while. The list goes on, of course- we fast intimidation by standing against fear. We fast apathy- the world's pain is overwhelming, and we grow numb to survive it all, but we need to somehow keep our swift compassion for others. Basically, all these "fasts" are chances to correct an unhealthy way of dealing with yourself, to refocus your relationships with others, or to catch a new glimpse of your God. As Alicia says, Lent "frees me from the sticky stuff of self-consciousness, increases within me the sacred stuff of God-consciousness" and therefore "fills me with unspeakable joy." Yep. I think a Resurrection should involve unspeakable joy. I thank Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my opinion.
Wow! Do yourself a favor and take this 40-day journey. There is so much healing, hope, and Jesus in these pages...enough to start a spiritual revolution in your life, in your family, your community, your world.
What is your first thought when you hear the word Decrease? [Less] What do you think of when you hear the word Fast? [Food, Technology, Media] In this book Alicia Britt Chole challenges ideas that we have formulated regarding decrease and fasting, and in doing this, stretches us in both our spiritual life and personal life. Alicia takes people and parables from the Bible that we are familiar with and challenges us to look at them from a different perspective; a perspective that challenges us in the way we see God and in the way we see ourselves. In 40 Days of Decrease Alicia also takes her readers through the history of Lent using both biblical facts and historical facts to support how Lent became what it is today. This is a 40 day study that was created to be read during the Lent season, but can be read at any time of the year. It can be used as an individual study or a group study. Each day begins with a challenge from Alicia and then has a reflection, scripture reading and a journaling space. It is my opinion that this book could be read more than once and each time you could be challenged in a new way. Once in awhile a book is written that is so deep spiritually and so rich in theology that it has the potential to be a real life changer, THIS is one of those books!
It’s not often that I hear the word decrease and think, yep that is what I want (unless of course it is regarding my weight.) But this book makes me long for more of Him, Our Lord, and less of me. Decreasing the many things this world has tricked us into thinking are just normal everyday life and increasing Christ-like character in me. Alicia’s words of encouragement can from a place of honestly and real life. Here is just an example of the teaching which ministered to my soul. “And in the midst of Jesus journey, He felt troubled. Clearly, then a troubled soul is not always the sign of a faith deficit. A troubled soul is sometimes the signature of obedience-in-the-making.” (Alicia Britt Chole) Fasting is another of those concepts which does not have great appeal to me. But the fasts which Alicia challenges us with throughout this book has made the thought of fasting something I look forward to each day. Fasting: speeding past sorrow, isolation, discontentment, willful sin and withholding brought about change in my soul. I challenge you to read this book and not be changed. I am not sure how it could be done. I love the format of the book with the day’s teachings, reflection and today’s fast is so full of richness and challenge it caused me to sit with it and desire to know the truth of it more deeply. Alicia’s sharing of the Biblical stories we have heard many times brought new insight and understanding. Leave that which you have known as decrease and fasting and join me in finding them anew with the Love of our Lord and His longing for us to know him more in 40 Days of Decrease. “We know nothing of their backstories. But then, in many ways, backstories matter little once Jesus enters the room…. whatever the cause of our physical and spiritual blindness, whatever family we do or do not have, whatever sines or success we count as our own, Jesus’ presence makes this moment the most important moment of our lives.” (Alicia Britt Chole )