A week from tonight, many of us will gather in our churches for the Ash Wednesday service that begins the season of Lent. If you plan to spend the coming weeks practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, and Bible study, I’m happy to offer you the free use of this Lenten devotional, Come Back to Jesus.
(Clicking that link will download a low-resolution PDF suitable for tablets and smaller devices; for a high-res, printable option, go to Scribd.)
The title comes from the opening pages of The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, the book I wrote last year with Evangelical Covenant pastor Mark Pattie. Mark shared a dream in which God asked him, “Do you want to know the steps to a vital life and a vital church?”
“Yes, Lord! Yes!”, Mark answered.
“Come back to Jesus,” God told him. So Mark wrote down that simple sentence, looked up from his paper to hear the second step to vitality… and woke up.
“It wasn’t until later,” Mark wrote, “that it struck me: there is no step number two, or three, or four. Just this one. Always this one. ‘Come back to Jesus.’” Our book was simply a reflection on how the Pietist ethos helps us to fulfill this single step.
And when better to take this step than during the Christian season of repentance, of “turning” from our sins to our Savior?
So it had always struck me that a Lenten devotional would make for an ideal follow-up to our book. All the more so because the devotional life has always been so central in Pietism, which was initially inspired by devotional writers like Thomas à Kempis and Lewis Bayly and went on to generate its own extensive corpus of devotional literature. In our book we took care to explain that the “Pietist option” wasn’t purely private or personal. But before we take what Mark called (in ch. 5) “The Journey Outward” into loving service of our neighbors, all Pietists start with an inward journey of Bible study and prayer, “allowing [Jesus] full access to the inner person.”
Fortunately, it also occurred to me that such a devotional might serve one other pietistic purpose and expand our small group conversation to include other voices from the common priesthood. Rather than Mark and me committing to writing a Lent’s worth of daily reflections, we would invite our readers to write them. Remarkably, over 40 of them jumped at the chance to connect what they’d read in our book with classic Lenten themes like sin, repentance, and grace.
The resulting conventicle has been a pleasure to work with, whether they’re close friends or complete strangers. “Not surprisingly,” I noted in the devotional’s introduction, “several contributors are fellow members of the Evangelical Covenant Church [Mark’s and my denomination], but you’ll find Baptists, Brethren, Lutherans, Methodists, and others in these pages. Coming from many parts of North America, they are women and men, clergy and laypeople, millennials and retirees, Republicans and Democrats.”
In addition to reflecting on one or two of the daily biblical texts from the Revised Common Lectionary, many of our contributors also drew inspiration from post-biblical history. You’ll hear from some of the Pietists who figured prominently in our book: e.g., Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Carl Olof Rosenius, and Carl H. Lundquist (whose daughter Carole wrote about her father for the anniversary of his death). In this continuing 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther makes several appearances. And history shapes our closing prayers, which borrow words from Teresa of Avila, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, W.E.B. DuBois, and an array of hymn writers, among many others.
But no one is mentioned more often than Jesus himself. For, as Mark wrote in the original book,
Whatever the devotional practices we incorporate into the daily, weekly, and ongoing rhythm of our lives, it is crucial that we recognize them as opportunities to rest in and receive God’s grace…. to the degree we believe in the God of the Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus, our belief must drive us to turn our attention toward God, toward Jesus, toward the Source of the life we’ve been given.
I pray that, this Lent, our devotional will help you, your small group, or your congregation to turn your attention in that direction: back to Jesus.