The Purpose and Power of Lent

The Power and Purpose of Lent www.annswindell.com

This post is adapted from a piece I wrote originally for RELEVANT Magazine and posted last year.
Click here to read the original article. 

In church tradition, Lent is the season preceding Easter, and it is often set aside as a time of remembrance and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and reflecting.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

Even after years of not being in a church that intentionally observes Lent, I still think so. Here are some reasons why Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent Reminds Us That We Need to Repent

Repentance is not an easy pill to swallow; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. First, it means acknowledging that we are sinners, and second, it means saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

 Lent Helps Us Pare Down Our Excesses

Historically, Christians have understood Lent as a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls. Click To Tweet

Lent Points Us to Our Humanity

In college, I was part of a liturgical church in college, and I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. There, I was marked with a cross in ash while hearing the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”

It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room; suddenly, I was faced with my own death. As a college student, I rarely thought about my own finiteness, my own frailty. But that declaration over me—that I started from dust and will return to dust—deeply humbled me, in the best of ways.

Lent pointed me back to the truth that all of my value and all of my purpose comes from being a person made in the image of the God who created me and made the way for me to be saved. Apart from Him, I am dust; I am nothing and I have nothing. But because of His great love, my life is worth much more than dust.

Lent Sobers Us—in Order to Prepare Us for Celebration

Lent is a season of reflection—even of mourning—and that attitude flies in the face of the cultural waters most of us swim in. Sobering ourselves by confronting our own brokenness—by pausing our desire to keep things light and easy—is necessary if we want to celebrate the miraculous and life-altering message of Easter.

If we aren’t aware of our sinfulness and need, we won’t be able to comprehend the desperation of Good Friday or the world-changing truth of the Resurrection. Sobering our hearts and minds in preparation for Easter enables us to celebrate more deeply and joyfully, perhaps, than we would have without the solemnness of the season.

Because knowing our true nature, knowing our need for Jesus—makes Easter the best and most necessary Good News we could ever hear.

Read the original article here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Writing with Grace course www.writingwithgrace.com

17 Ways You Can Pray for Your Husband

17 Ways to Pray for Your Husband in 2017 at www.annswindell.comI had the honor of getting to write for Way-FM recently about one of the topics I love the most: marriage! The start of the article is below; you can read it in its entirety here!

As wives, perhaps one of the most important things we have the opportunity to do in 2017 is to pray for our husband. No one knows him as closely as you do, and this offers a unique chance to come before the Lord and ask him to guide and protect your husband in a powerful way.

Still, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start or how to focus our prayers, and so, below, you’ll find 17 ways to pray for your husband this year. You can pray through the whole list at once, or pray for specific aspects on different days of the week or month. Even if your husband does not yet know the Lord, you can pray these prayers for him, trusting that the Lord hears you and he loves your husband even more than you do.

1. Pray for your husband’s relationship with Christ.

No other relationship in your husband’s life is as important as his relationship with God—not even his relationship with you! The good news is that as your husband grows in closeness with the Lord, his love for Christ will start to spill over into every other relationship in his life, including his marriage. So, pray that your husband will be motivated and excited to spend time with the Lord, praying and reading the Bible.

2. Pray that the Lord will give your husband godly friends.

We become like the people we spend time with, and so your husband’s friends have a huge influence on his life. Ask God to give your husband close friends who are also pursuing Christ, and that they would “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

3. Pray for favor on your husband’s life.

Your husband has already received favor in having you as his wife, for “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22)! Now, pray that God will increase your husband’s favor with bosses, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances!

4. Pray that your husband will thrive in his job.

Few things matter more to a man than knowing he is making significant contributions in his work. Pray that God will give your husband joy in his work and breakthrough in any difficult situations at his place of employment.

Read the rest of the article here, at WAY-FM!

Looking for more marriage encouragement? 
Read 10 Ways to Grow Spiritually with your Spouse!
Read Cultivating a Joy-Filled Relationship with your Spouse.

 
still-waitingreleases-april-4th

Write Your Story, Change Your Life

I started writing my story years ago; long before I was anywhere near a book contract or a marketing team, I felt that the Lord was inviting me into a process of writing my story down and–in the process–meeting him in the middle of it. I’m not sure I’ve done anything more powerful in my personal spiritual journey than write my memoir.

 

Write Your Story www.writingwithgrace.com

Memoir is the genre that I love the most, because it’s the genre that allows us–even gently forces us–to re-examine the lives that we have been living as we write them down on the page. A good memoir isn’t autobiography, and it isn’t a personal journal. It’s the true story of our lives written in such a way that others can understand, access, and be changed by it.

I’m not sure there’s a more dynamic form of the written word.

Our God is the God of story, and he loves making himself known through our stories; it’s how he’s wired us. We start loving stories as children, and we inherently know when a story has a satisfying or unacceptable ending, because we were made to long for resolution, peace, and hope.

Our God is the God of story, and he loves making himself known through our stories. Click To Tweet

If you’ve always wanted to write your story, or if you’ve been wondering how you can tell your story in a meaningful way, I’m going to suggest that writing your memoir might be one of the most powerful things you can do in your personal journey with Jesus. Down the road, might your story impact hundreds or thousands of people? I hope so! But in these days and months, writing your story will transform you most of all. I know that it has transformed me; I got to see Jesus at work all over again as I’ve written my memoir over the past years.

I just opened registration for the Writing with Grace Memoir course that I’ll be teaching this fall. To say that I’m thrilled about this class is an understatement; I’m practically jumping out of my chair!

Registration is open for Writing with Grace: Memoir! www.writingwithgrace.com #amwriting Click To Tweet

I’d love for you to join me over at Writing with Grace–you can even see the new video that we created just for this course.

If you’ve been aching to write your story, this is your time. I can’t wait to see you there!

5 Quick Ways to Refresh When You Can’t Slow Down

Although many of us hope that summer will be a season of rest and renewal, the truth is that sometimes the summer months are packed with more activities than we can count. If you’re finding yourself stretched thin, I hope that this piece of mine from Today’s Christian Woman will offer you some practical ways to refresh your soul in the midst of the craziness of life.

You can read the whole article here!

5 Ways to Refresh Your Soul When You Can't Slow Down

Most days, it seems like there’s not quite enough time to accomplish everything we need—or want—to do. It might be that we’re juggling kids, a marriage, and a dog; or it might be that we’re trying to balance classes and friendships and work; or that we’re living in the tension between our professional and personal lives. Whatever roles and responsibilities we carry, we have all experienced that nagging feeling that we’re not doing enough.

So it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that what we actually need is more refreshment. It may sound, in fact, like an unattainable luxury: to refresh ourselves when there are things to get done. It’s easier to put our own lives on hold when the kids are screaming, when the deadline is looming, when the bills are overdue.

We can’t put our need for refreshment on pause forever, though many of us feel as if we have to do just that. I’ve struggled with the tension of wanting to renew my soul but feeling guilty about the desire to do “something for myself.” As I’ve learned the hard way, though, things that refresh my body, mind, and soul aren’t luxuries. They are necessary for long-term health and wholeness—just as necessary as food and sleep. Go without refreshment too long, and you’ll find yourself exhausted and fried.

Making time to refresh our body, soul, and mind isn't a luxury--it's a necessity. Click To Tweet

One problem is that we associate refreshment with big trips or expensive experiences—and those seem unattainable. What we need instead are smaller, more consistent ways to refresh in the midst of our everyday lives, and that doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Here are five ways to refresh when you don’t have time to slow down.

1. Listen to Scripture

If your time to read the Bible is rushed or nonexistent, consider downloading a Bible-reading app to your phone or computer. Find a version of the Bible that you love, and start listening before you pull out of the driveway on your morning commute or while you’re on your way to drop off kids at school.

We’d all like to have time to study the Bible deeply, but listening to the Bible is another way to concentrate on Scripture in the midst of full days. This listening can keep us focused on “what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable”—the things that we are called to “think about” (Philippians 4:8). Consistently hearing the Scripture fills our minds—and hearts—with God’s truth, and that truth will refresh and sustain us in a soul-nourishing way that nothing else can.

2. Put Your Feet Up for Five Minutes

Whether you close the door to your office and put your feet on your desk or hop on your favorite couch at home, get your feet off the floor. Put your phone down and turn it on silent (it’s only five minutes, remember?), close your eyes, and focus on breathing.

Rest is good for our brains and our souls. A University of Illinois study points out that taking short breaks enables us to stay focused over the course of a long project. Similarly, a writer for the New York Times argues that idleness is good for us, stating that “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole.”

Scripture helps us see our lives as a whole, too. When we step back from the minutiae of our lives to consider the vast world God has created, we can rest in his mindfulness of us (Psalm 8:3-4) and in his ability to hold the world together—a refreshing truth and something we don’t have to accomplish on our own (Colossians 1:15-17).

Regularly refreshing ourselves is not a sign of weakness or selfishness—it is the way to stay… Click To Tweet

3. Spark Your Senses

God created us to experience the world through all of our senses. If you are calmed or invigorated by a certain scent, for example, invest in a fragrant candle and light it during a particularly stressful part of your day. If you can’t have flames in your workspace, consider melting wax pods, which release the aroma of a candle without the fire.

Similarly, if you are refreshed by the mountains or the ocean but can’t look out your window and see them, purchase a photo of a beautiful place and put it in your office or by the kitchen sink.

Music, too, can be a powerful way for us to refresh our souls. One study showed that playing music can decrease anxiety, even in an environment as stressful as an emergency room. Even if we must be in a stressful environment, it may be possible to turn music on in the background, or in headphones. Choose music that encourages you and lifts your spirits.

Read the rest of the article here, at Today’s Christian Woman!

4 Things I Wish I Knew About My Body in My Twenties

What I Wish I Knew About My Body in My 20s. www.annswindell.com
This is the start of my newest article for RELEVANT Magazine. 
You can read the entire article over at RELEVANT.

I spent a good portion of my twenties focusing on my body and being critical about the shape of it, the size of it, the weight of it. If my pant size moved up, I did what I could to move the size back down. I worried that my body wasn’t as it should be, that it wasn’t good enough and that it needed to change.

Now, in my thirties, I have come to a comfortable peace with my body. Are there still things I would change if I could? Sure. But over the last decade, as my relationship with God has deepened—and as my body has altered and shifted—I have been able to cling to gratefulness.

Your body’s main purpose is to worship the God who created it. Click To Tweet

My body has carried me through severe sickness and emotional pain. It has grown and stretched with a child I love dearly. It has walked me over thousands of miles across the world. I am thankful for it, jiggles and all.

Here are the things I wish I had understood about my body in my twenties—the things that have allowed me to not only accept but rejoice in the body I have:

Your body’s main purpose is not to attract others to it.

Our culture shows us more than enough images of bodies to make us believe that they exist simply to attract others. And in large part because of that, I had a lot of angst in my twenties about how my body appeared to others. I looked in the mirror for lumps and bumps in what I considered to be the “wrong places,” and chose my clothes based on how attractive I thought they made me look to others.

I wanted to look beautiful, and I wanted to be attractive.

Now, hear me: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with wanting to appear attractive. I still want to be a beautiful woman. But it was the way I approached my body in my twenties that made my mindset so unhealthy. I was operating from the lens that culture had taught me, rather than getting my grid for beauty and attractiveness from Scripture.

I’m not suggesting that we wear paper bags and frumpy clothes, but what I wish I would have grasped in my twenties is this: Your body’s main purpose is to worship the God who created it.

The book of Romans exhorts us: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Your body is primarily a means of worshiping God—through service, through love, through acts of praise and mercy. Attracting the presence of God through the lives we live in our bodies is much more important than attracting the passing attention of others.

Attracting the presence of God is more important than attracting the passing attention of others. Click To Tweet

Sex is wonderful but it isn’t the pinnacle of existence.

Part of the angst about attractiveness and the shape and size of our bodies stems from a culture that is obsessed with sex. And when the act of sex is at the center of a culture’s focus, then bodies become hyper-sexualized—everything about their attractiveness stems from sexualized ideals. But what I wish I had known in my twenties was that the other aspects of sex—the emotional aspect, the spiritual aspect, the relational aspect. These are the things that make sex deeply satisfying, over and over again, with the same person, in the context of a godly marriage.

I needed to hear in my twenties that it’s not the shape or size of a body that makes sex wonderful—it’s the context of sex within a loving marriage to a fun and thoughtful spouse thats gives sex its power and delight.

Read the rest of the article here, at RELEVANT!

Mentor for Life: Why Discipleship Matters

If you know me, you know that I care deeply about discipleship in the local church–I care about it so much because Jesus cares about it. He called us to be disciples who make disciples, and the church is the place where we can most readily and powerfully fulfill this mission, while inviting those who don’t yet know Jesus to join us, too.

My friend and fellow writer, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, recently wrote the book Mentor for Life, which addresses the beauty, power, and necessity of mentoring and discipleship in the church. I’m honored to have an interview with her in this space. Read below, be encouraged, and buy this wonderful book!

Discipleship and Mentoring is so important!

Natasha, why did you want to write this book?

The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books.

The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that, or I wish there was a ministry like that in my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

What makes Mentor for Life unique, as a book?

Mentor for Life is unique because it addresses mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentionally making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the Biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging.

This book is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting?

Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?”

I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others.

I’m grateful to  Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this book and to Natasha for sharing her words here. I believe this is an important book for us today and highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for yourself–and share it with your church leadership and friends!