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Development Stewardship: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving this Lent

By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor

One of my favorite Bible stores is that of Queen Esther. Her uncle urged her to go before her husband, the king, to plead for the lives of her people. Also, because she went to the king without being summoned, she risked being executed herself. Talk about a lot of pressure in that “ask!” To prepare, Esther, her maids, and her people fasted and prayed for three days. 


While the work we do in development is vital to the life of the Church, I don’t think any of us have risked our lives to meet our financial goals. And unlike Queen Esther, we probably didn’t humble ourselves with dung and ashes on our heads either! Yet, Esther’s story teaches us that a good cause alone, one that God no doubt supports, may not be enough to bring about his will. If we want to harness the power of God, the Bible tells us that prayer, fasting, and action are “tools” that impact outcomes. 


These tools are used throughout scripture and in the lives of the saints: as signs of repentance and conversion, for insight and wisdom, and in an effort to “persuade” God. 


To me, it is a mystery WHY God is moved by prayer, fasting, and even our work, especially when what we want are GOOD things. Yet, scripture and the Church teach us to go to God in prayer for the things that we need and want. Why is that? Could it be because prayer, fasting and action can change OUR hearts and remind us that all we have comes from our loving God? God’s wisdom is so vast that we can’t even imagine, let alone understand, all of the “moving parts” that he constantly juggles within the tapestry of our lives. And, he promises that even if we sin, make bad decisions, are victims of the sins of others or seemingly random circumstances, everything can work for the good. 


As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)


God writes straight with crooked lines. (old proverb sometimes attributed to St. Teresa of Avila)


How does this relate to our work in development? We all believe that God is on the side of our ministries. After all, each ministry came about to further the kingdom of heaven in some particular way. Yet, God asks us to pray, sacrifice, and work nonetheless. What better time than Lent to pray for our ministries and the fulfillment of God’s plan for them? What better time to unite these prayers to fasting and other sacrifices to give Our Lord an extra nudge and to open our hearts to wisdom and trust in fulfilling HIS plan?  


Our experience also teaches us that while prayer is essential, it’s usually not enough. We need to work too. There is a Russian nautical proverb that says, “Pray to God, but row towards shore.” In development, we row hard and for long distances. Through our holy work, we LIVE and promote the third discipline of Lent, almsgiving. Alms are sacrificial gifts to those in need. Our ministries either directly address a need or empower others to do so. 


We also have a personal responsibility and spiritual need to give alms. Generosity not only helps others, it fosters our own gratitude. Lent is a time for each of us to renew the commitment we’ve made to our ministries by giving a financial gift, or adding a bit if we are already in the habit of giving. 


Just as Esther took a risk, Lent can be a time for us to extend our efforts beyond our personal comfort zones. What is standing in the way of your ministry becoming even better? What can YOU do, with prayer, fasting, and effort, to bring about this change?


As development professionals, we have the privilege of inviting others to enjoy the blessings of giving alms. Lent is a time to reach out to our benefactors, especially our most challenging prospects, to help them grow in holiness by gently and respectfully reminding them to give alms—perhaps through a gift to your ministry. 


Lenten appeals can also be an effective way to raise funds and honor the penitential spirit of the season. A simple letter, email, social media, or online appeal reminds the faithful that while we look forward to the joy of Easter, we live in a world of need TODAY—need for God’s total self-giving love, need for community, and need for the temporal necessities. If you have not done such an appeal in the past, why not consider one during this Lent?


Finally, we have to remember that our Lenten observances are a process toward holiness. Some days we will live out the spirit of this season better than others. We are not saints yet, but saints have faced challenges and discouragement too. We are in good company. Development is holy work. Development is a path toward our own sainthood, and it will not always be a smooth one!


How can you incorporate prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent in your personal and professional life?


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