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Lenten Devotions 2023
Lent is a season of 40 days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, and ends the Saturday before Easter.
It is a time of preparation, of self-examination and of reflection as we journey toward the cross.
The devotions in this collection, designed so that you can use one for each week of Lent, focus on humility and what we learn about it from Jesus.
Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7
Patience in action
By Amy Dunham
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
— 1 Peter 5:6-7, New International Version
One of the aspects of Habitat’s mission that resonates strongly with me — and many others — is our bias toward action. We build things that are meaningful and lasting: homes, communities and hope. We have always approached our work with humble recognition that we cannot achieve our mission alone. We rely on volunteers, donors, advocates and partners to help Habitat families achieve the strength and stability they need to build a better life for themselves and for those around them. We’ve named humility as one of our core values, alongside accountability and courage.
As your friendly neighborhood communications and brand person, I spend a lot of time thinking about words and their meaning, particularly the ones we hold closest to our identity as an organization. Humility conjures up imagery of modesty, deference and penitence; it eschews pride, status and entitlement.
This passage from Peter’s first epistle, written to comfort persecuted believers and encourage them to stay strong, highlights an element of humility that I suspect we struggle with more mightily in the 21st century than people did even in the first century: patience.
We have access to inconceivable amounts of information via a device in our pockets; one social media post can feel like the whole world is weighing in. We can watch global financial markets, natural disasters and wars in real time. Nearly every signal we receive on Earth says, “Act now, don’t delay — respond, react!” And it never stops.
Patience can be the hardest aspect of humility to live into for organizations, for leaders, for each of us. As a communications professional, we are taught — and learn throughout our careers through painful, public experience — that often the right thing to do is to wait. This waiting is not passive, though; it is a time to listen, to reflect, to pray, to let emotions cool, to step back and see the bigger picture.
Each of these is an action. In this Lenten season, let us remember that God calls us to these actions as Christians, and He understands that they don’t feel like actions to us. This is why patience is among the lessons Jesus taught us. And here in the 21st century, His teachings are among the things we can access from the device in our pockets — and act upon.
Lord, help us live into the virtue of patience that Jesus modeled for us as we seek to put Your love into action. In a world where everything has become instantaneous, it’s almost impossible not to feel frustrated when things don’t get accomplished immediately. With Your unfathomable view of time, remind us that You will lift us up in due time, and that prayer, reflection and listening are all actions that help us do Your work here on Earth. Thank You for being the only one who can truly take away our urge to do life by ourselves.
- What things in your life do you feel you must default to doing and deciding on your own? How might you carve space for being in a deeper relationship with God and with others as you approach these parts of your life in the future?
- Can you reflect on a time where patience felt stressful? What actions did you take to help alleviate the stress, and did they help?
- What can you apply to your own life from Jesus’s example of patience for an outcome that He knew would be painful?
Amy Dunham is chief communications officer at Habitat for Humanity International. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Learning to increase by decreasing
By Maurice Makoloo
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
— Philippians 2:5-8, New International Version
There is a famous Kenyan song called “Unbwogable.” In it, one person asks anyone who cares to listen, “Do you know me?” My mind went back to this song a little while ago when chatting with the staff of a barbershop. They were sharing their experiences in their industry and how many times they have come across clients who ask them, without any prompting, if they knew who they were serving! In truth, many of us may have found ourselves uttering these or similar words (or at least thinking about them) quite often, either because we are feeling not sufficiently regarded as we would wish to be or because we want to influence some course of events.
In this passage, Jesus teaches us a few things about how we need to comport ourselves. He was God, and He knew He was God, i.e., possessing all the attributes of God – glorious, infinite, perfect, mighty, all-knowing, etc. Despite this knowledge, and indeed perhaps because of it, He took a low profile and focused on His mission rather than on Himself. This is along the lines of Habitat’s belief in putting the “mission before me.” In taking this approach, it is clear that He had faith in Himself and therefore did not need to do anything extraordinary to prove anything to anyone.
On a related note, this reading also challenges us to be comfortable and revel in undertaking assignments that are much less than what we believe or know we deserve. Accepting less does not change who we are. It certainly did not make Jesus any less God! But it is also about sacrifice — being out of your comfort zone and even willing to pay a price, no matter how high.
Furthermore, in this season of Lent, this passage reminds us to remain focused on the goal or mission, even amid distractions. Jesus reminds us severally the reason for which He came. For this reason, He needed to avoid being distracted by trying to prove how powerful He was. Humility enabled Him to stay the course of His mission. We have much to learn from Jesus, given that humility is one of Habitat’s core values.
Lord Jesus, for the sake of Your sorrowful passion, teach us to think less of ourselves and more of others. Grant us the graces to decrease that You may increase. Amen.
- What assignments do I refuse to take because I deem them beneath me?
- What authority or power do I arrogate to myself that does not really belong to me, and what motivates me to do so?
- What does the statement “mission before me” mean to me?
Maurice Makoloo is vice president, Africa, for Habitat for Humanity International. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Never forget who you are
By Ed Anderson
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
— Colossians 3:12-13, New International Version
I was born and lived my early life in a small, rural town in northeast Arkansas. It was a town made up of mostly farmers, domestic workers and the unemployed (unemployment averaged 35%). My father, not wanting his sons to be farmers, pick cotton or work manual labor, decided to get a job with the United States government as a national park ranger. As we prepared to move from our small 900-square-foot home to a park in western Arkansas, my grandmother sat me down and said, “Never forget who you are.” As I grew older, this puzzled me. Why would my grandmother, who was full of wisdom and loved the Lord, give that advice to a very young boy? I could not find my shoes every day (and I only had two pairs — church and everyday), let alone know who I was.
We arrived at our park and new home — a mobile home with poorly built wooden steps that sat so high off the ground we could crawl under it. There was no one anywhere near us. In the old house, my grandparents lived with us; my aunt and two cousins lived next door; and another cousin lived just down the street.
The other families who composed our park team were from all over the United States. They ate different foods (that were not fried), spoke differently, talked about God differently, and played different sports and games. It was all a big change for me and my family. And then the words of my grandmother came to me: “Never forget who you are.”
In the book of Colossians, Paul tells the Colossian Christians that, as members of the body of Christ, no part of their humanity remains untouched by the love and oversight of Jesus. Their suffering, temptation, character and family dynamics must all be viewed through the lens of a life with Christ and transformed by His work. No matter where they are and what they are going through, may they never forget who they are.
At Habitat, we are in the process of change and transformation. A few years ago, we launched our four strategic initiatives and our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. The objective is to meaningfully increase our impact and ability to reduce the global housing deficit by intentionally pursuing increased efficiencies, greater collaboration and integration across our global network and better stewardship of our relationships and funding. Each of these initiatives is progressing thanks to the effort of each of you and the grace of God. It has not been easy.
As we move forward with these projects, tend to the day-to-day work, and address emergencies and a changing world that impacts housing, we should never forget who we are. God has set the work before us, provided us examples of how we are to love and treat each other, and blessed us with financial and staff resources. We should work together clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, for we are His people. That is who we are.
During this season of Lent, we remember the love of God that is poured out through Christ Jesus and His sacrifice for us. That sacrifice, and His overwhelming love, should remind us that our salvation is bought at a very high price. Thank you, Lord Jesus.
Father God, we lift You up and praise You, Lord, for Your love, grace and mercy. As we go through hard times, change and transformation, gently and frequently remind us of who we are in You. As we experience accomplishment and blessing, gently and frequently remind us of who we are in You. In all circumstances, Your love conquers all. May they know us by our love for each other as a reflection of Your love for us. Lord, please continue to guide us and bless us as Habitat serves those in need of safe and affordable housing. In Your powerful and loving name, Amen.
- Have you ever gone through a change in your life where you were influenced by a different culture, lifestyle, circumstance or conflicting beliefs? How did you hold on to “who you are”?
- Have you ever experienced that person who is just very difficult to love? It may be a relative, co-worker or friend, but they just seem to always be at odds with you. How did Jesus’ love impact that situation? How did you find a way to love them?
- Sometimes in dealing with a difficult person or going through a significant change, we are transformed or learn a lot about ourselves. Sometimes the difficult person or person unwilling to change is us. Has that ever been you? How did the Lord restore you? What did you learn about yourself?
Ed Anderson is chief administrative officer at Habitat for Humanity International. He is based in Naples, Florida.
The future of the planet
By Alberto Benítez
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
— Psalm 32:8, New International Version
God teaches us to take care of the planet, and we must with humility be obedient. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” God gives us the responsibility to care for the Earth, and He teaches us the best way to fulfill that work, learn to care for His creation, and live in harmony with nature.
Right now, the world is facing a crisis caused by people. Many scientists agree that human activities are responsible for global warming, and the planet is sending an SOS signal. Climate change has already caused so much death and suffering.
But despite everything, we have reasons to be optimistic and look to the future with hope. The 98th Psalm says “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”
Hunger, plague, war and death are evils that simultaneously afflict humanity. It is almost inevitable to fall into pessimism, but with humility we must maintain hope and build a better world for all.
One example of a person working to build a better world was environmental activist Berta Cáceres. Berta organized the Lenca people, the largest indigenous ethnic group in Honduras, in their struggle against the Agua Zarca dam. The construction was planned in the northwest of the country on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to indigenous communities and vital for their survival.
“When we started the fight against Agua Zarca, I knew how hard it would be, but I knew we were going to succeed; the river told me,” Berta told the BBC. “We will continue not only as a people, but with other organizations in hope of changing the situation in our country.”
And they succeeded. The world’s largest dam builder, China’s Sinohydro, withdrew its stake in the hydropower project, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation abandoned the initiative.
Berta is recognized as the voice of indigenous Lenca and for her commitment to working in alliance with Christian entities in Honduras. She met with Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Social Movements in 2014 and received the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s highest recognition for environmental activists, in 2015. Sadly, the defense of the Gualcarque River cost Berta her life when she was killed on March 3, 2016, but her commitment to taking care of the planet leaves a lasting impact for generations to come.
Lord, please take our hand and guide each of our steps. I beg You to lead us on good paths of light and truth. Give us wisdom to resolve difficulties, courage to face injustice, and a noble heart to understand others, and allow us to be humble instruments of Your work.
- What actions can we take through Habitat to save this planet?
- God entrusts us to take care of the Earth. Are we doing well with that task?
- What implications does Habitat’s mission of building homes, communities and hope (to live in harmony with nature) have, and how do they show God’s love in action?
Alberto Benítez is executive director of Habitat for Humanity Honduras. He is based in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Achieving bold ends by humble means
By Ollie Babson
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
— Matthew 5:3-11, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
When we stand back from the world, or when we look inside ourselves, we can observe a great, constant tension between our ambitions, on one hand, and our means to meet them, on the other.
Our passion to make the world a better place is a good thing, but it connects us with two temptations. The first temptation is to paint what’s selfish as noble. The second is to pursue a noble end by expedient, potentially destructive means.
We see a lot of this in the world, in sectarian and identitarian politics, in the rhetoric of different interest groups, in the way some products — and many ideas — are sold. And we can feel it ourselves in the form of our impatience, quick condemnation and easy self-justification.
One of the most famous stories of the New Testament speaks to this phenomenon and locates courageous humility at the heart of Christian faith.
Jesus was passing through Galilee, teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the gospel. He cured disease and illness as He found it. Great crowds gathered and began to follow Him. Many in the throng would have been hopeful. Many would have been uncertain. Many would have been skeptical. With the crowd behind Him, Jesus walked a short way up the side of a mountain, His disciples close behind. He turned, sat and began to address the people with the words above, shared in the Gospel of Matthew.
The Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, are a sharp articulation of Christian faith. They are a distillation of Jesus’ lesson that morality and ethics are found in the way we live and how we proceed through the world, not in our achievements or accomplishments, or even in our intent, ambition and vision, no matter how worthy. During this season of Lent, we reaffirm Jesus’s teaching that righteousness is even more in the “how” than in the “what” of our work.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.” Or as Gandhi, who was inspired by Jesus and the Beatitudes, put it, “Means are ends in the making.”
Gracious God, help us to see clearly the path we travel, to go boldly and to step with grace and humility through the joy and hardship before us.
- Consider a cause for which you are a passionate and zealous advocate. What does humility mean for you in your pursuit of this mission?
- Although we should strive to be humble, we must also make decisions and move forward. How do you experience humility while making hard decisions?
- How can the Beatitudes help us improve the way we pursue our mission at Habitat?
Ollie Babson is vice president, strategy and planning, at Habitat for Humanity International. He is based in Seattle, Washington.
You must be humble to harmonize
By Marla Davidson
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
— Romans 12:16, New International Version
One of the most pleasing sounds to my ear is a song performed in close harmony.
I love being a part of a large choir. Unlike solo performance, where the intent is to stand out and be heard, choral singing requires sound conformity and blending. Each singer must listen to those around them to ensure no one person is overpowering the other. Likewise, the choir as a group sacrifices their individual interpretations of the music to work together and follow the conductor to achieve the desired impact for those listening.
To me, Jesus is the great conductor. He leads us to forgo our individual desires to work for the greater good, following the leadership and example of Christ.
Such is the experience when working for Habitat. It might be on a job site, where people from all walks of life work side by side, equally pursuing the goal of completing a house, repair or project. Or it might be in our day-to-day work conducting the business of Habitat, where each department or function plays an integral role in advancing our mission. We are called to perform our tasks in partnership, or harmony, with one another.
If we are lacking humility as we work together, we will eventually end up overpowering one another, and the final product will fall short of its potential.
As we move through the Lenten period, let us remember that while our challenges to remain humble may seem big to us, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice and humbled himself to associate with us here on Earth for the betterment of mankind.
Father God, we remember that Your ultimate act of humility and sacrifice provided us a pathway to be reconciled in harmony with You. May You always help us to see the value in those around us, feel the strength in equal partnership and hear the joyous sound of people working together in harmony. Grant us a humble heart so that we may be fully used to the good of Your divine plan. Amen.
- Can you describe a time when working together with others in harmony yielded a result that was greater than you expected?
- Can you identify places in your life where you are trying to be a solo artist when a member of the chorus would be a better approach?
- Can you identify accountability partners who can help keep you humble and seeing the bigger picture?
Marla Davidson is vice president, information technology, and chief information officer at Habitat for Humanity International. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Service predicated on humility
By Patrick Canagasingham
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
— Philippians 2:3-4, New International Version
A lot has been said and written in faith and non-faith contexts concerning the need for humility in serving others. The term “servant leadership” is often used to depict the posture we adopt when helping others. Interestingly, Jesus never explicitly used the term servant leadership. Instead, He introduced His disciples to a radical notion of service centered on humility. In Matthew 20:20-28, Jesus responds to a mother’s request to give prominence to two of her sons, both Jesus’ disciples, by describing greatness as having the posture and heart of a servant.
What, then, can we learn from Jesus’ definition of service? First, Jesus did not mince His words when He said He did not expect His disciples to exercise authority by lording over people. He charged His followers to be radically different. Then He said something even more radical to them: “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Finally, in Verse 28, Jesus got to the core premise of humility in service when He said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
As I reflect on that passage, I am forced to reckon with the application of Jesus’ teaching concerning humility in service. The call to service is not about me but about God and His kingdom. This gives me perspective concerning my posture when I serve and reminds me that God expects me to put the interests of others ahead of my own.
The charge from the Apostle Paul in the book of Philippians gives us even greater perspective about the posture of humility we ought to adopt and helps us appreciate the needs of others around us more profoundly as we move through this Lenten period. When we value the needs of others, we increasingly realize why serving others in humility is a critical imperative in our faith journey.
Almighty God, thank You for demonstrating Your love in tangible ways through Your son, Jesus Christ. The hope You promised us through the death and resurrection of Jesus gives us hope. Help us, Lord, to serve others the way Jesus demonstrated His love in humility.
- What inhibits us from serving others in humility?
- What lessons in your faith journey have helped you emulate the humility reflected in these Scripture passages?
Patrick Canagasingham is chief operating officer at Habitat for Humanity International. He is based in Toronto, Canada.
Global Prayer Partners
Through the Global Prayer Partner program, we invite all who pray, whatever their religion, to join others around the globe in praying daily for Habitat’s work. By becoming a Habitat Global Prayer Partner, you will receive a special monthly email with prayer requests for Habitat programs, people and principles.