What is Lent? Warning personal thoughts ahead:
Lent is a traditional time of sacrifice, good works, fasting, penance, contemplation, prayer, and Bible Study.
I can hear all of you who don’t observe Lent going “That’s the whole of the Christian life!”
And you are right, it is. This is why Lent is a powerful and dangerous tool.
In my personal experience Lent can be sweet, and it can be faux sweet. Because it isn’t technically Scriptural, because it is a man-made exercise that incorporates some Biblical things, because it has a long and varied history, it’s definitely something which should be approached with caution.
I’ll try and share the sweet side first.
What I love about Lent, is its ability like a good teacher, to make me focus. Lent is also like Christian boot camp. Spiritual muscles that have been used throughout the year but aren’t as honed as they could be get a real work out. It’s forty days of being deliberate about who you are and what you say you are. Now that I’ve given you that in a nut shell, I’ll share a little about the different sides of Lent as I see them.
Setting aside something that I enjoy and something that is beneficial to me, reminds me of Jesus’ sacrifice. He sacrificed so many, many good things for me. The second part of that sacrifice is to take the time and money spent on it and pour it out into other people. When I give up the good, when I spend myself on another’s behalf I am shadow-copying what Jesus does for me. These tiny sacrifices, these miniscule drips that I pour out, are like when a child clomps about in their parent’s shoes. But what parent, or sibling, coming across a child strutting about in the shoes and the too big clothing, doesn’t understand that the child is saying ‘I want to be like you when I get older’ That’s what the sacrifice and service in Lent are to me. My heart crying out to His great heart I want to be like You, I want to be like You, I want to be like You.
This morning, I found this verse, so I’m sticking it in here. I laughed at how well it fit into what I was trying to say.
Ephesians 5:1-2 NKJV “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” The italics are mine.
Not everyone fasts during Lent. I don’t believe I ever have.
I have fasted before, and I can tell you when you abstain from food whether it’s the whole meal or just certain kinds of foods, you definitely focus. Every time my stomach rumbles or I feel the pinch of hunger I am focused on why it is I’m not eating. Every time I feel that pinch or empty rumbling ache I pray.
As an interesting side note here the Eastern Orthodox Church calls fasting without prayer, the fast of demons. Why? Because the demons don’t eat and neither do they pray.
Fasting goes with prayer. As my Mom reminded me recently, you can pray without fasting but you can’t fast without praying. So fasting during Lent as a tool to help believers keep their focus on Jesus, can be a very good thing. But it is different from “giving up” something.
Oh, and when I do fast, I always make sure that I don’t tell anyone. It’s led to some interesting days that’s for certain, but it also keeps the flesh in check and my focus off myself.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16 ESV
It really works if you do it this way. There are so many rewards. That’s another whole post though. Onward!
Being a Moravian/Lutheran hybrid I don’t subscribe to the idea of penance, so I’ll skip that one.
Contemplation is one of my favorite things about Lent.
Contemplation is one of my least favorite things about Lent.
Just a second, I’ll explain.
I love the story of the Redemption, the Great and Glorious rescue plan formulated and put in place before the foundation of the world; I love the wild sweetness of Scripture and following it until I get to a certain point. When I hit that point, and it’s usually a different point each year, the contemplative part becomes very close to the bone and often painful.
Sometimes the overwhelming awe hits as I read Isaiah 53, with tears streaming down my cheeks and my ears stinging from my rubbing them. Sometimes it’s when I reach the Mount of Olives, and my stomach gets sick as I read and really hear the agony in the words choked out in the garden. Sometimes it’s when I think about the desperate silence between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. I cannot think of a time more dark than that Saturday.
As I meditate on the Scripture, on how Christ wants me to live, I begin to feel rather raw.
I don’t like that kind of contemplation because all the surfaces of life, all the things that I keep getting duped into believing are important, are peeled away. Like some crusty dusty scroll they’re rolled up and I can really see what’s underneath and important.
People are important (even the ones that drive me up one wall and down the other, even the ones that hate me)
The eternal destiny of people is important.
Everything else is window dressing
This is the heart of Lent. It’s a chance for me to be deliberately contemplative about my life and my faith. They should be so tangled up together that you can’t pull at one thread without disturbing the other. If they aren’t, if there’s a gap between what I say I believe and how I live, Lentin contemplation shows it to me.
Usually during Lent I try and pick a specific person or need to pray about. I tie the individual into what I’m doing, where I’m going, and focus intently on what this person or need would benefit the most from receiving. In the past I’ve picked friends that are having a rough shake of things, and organizations facing vile darkness. For me, prayer straddles sacrifice and contemplation. I’m sacrificing time and words on behalf of someone/something else, and interceding for them. I’m also really looking at my life in regard to this person or subject and actively asking the Lord to show me what to do or where to give. It’s not that I don’t do this at other times, I do. This prayer however, is concentrated, fervent, and often more honest and naked than other times.
Each Lentin season, I usually get a forty day devotional and go through the readings that someone has outlined for me. Usually, the readers start somewhere before the Passion week, leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. This year I woke up and went, wait, this love story starts much further back than this. It’s like flipping a book open and reading the last thirty pages, starting there. So this year, I’m rooting around in Genesis and having a fantastic time really following the plan from the start. Or as close to the start as I can get. I’m getting spooled off into places too, and trying to think of Yahweh and His side of the love story. I can tell you this much so far, He’s a rather abused lover.
Bible study for me, in Lent, is all about that love story and looking at it from different points of view. It often leads me out of the Bible and into Bible commentary and Bible encyclopedias and other aides as I study. But I always come back to the book itself. It’s exciting, to me, to focus on a different aspect of the Glorious Rescue, and as I am reading I find myself talking with the Author. I talk to Him about how cool a passage was, or something unusual I found there, or a turn of phrase I really adored.
I think that He enjoys talking with me about what He wrote. He also tends to be working on my heart while I’m reading. There have been some issues where I attempt to stonewall Him (yes, I’m a nimrod) and reading can become a wrestling match.
In a really weird way, even the wrestling with Him is sweet.
Here ends the sweet side of Lent. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about and looking at the darker side.