Wendy Willis – Director Missions & Connections
Today is Valentine’s Day. A special day in our culture set aside to celebrate those we love through romantic gestures and gifts. Lots of teddy bears and cards are sold to express our affection for one another. Precious preschoolers and elementary school children enjoy exchanging cute cards decorated with hearts and candy. Couples enjoy dinners out, roses and chocolate. All these gestures and “symbols” demonstrate our love for one another.
In the Christian faith, today also marks the beginning of the season of Lent- the 6-week season of preparation leading up to Easter. Many Christians will attend church services today to ponder, pray, and receive ashes on their foreheads in observance of Ash Wednesday. This time of reflection and penitence is where we are reminded of Genesis 3:19. “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Believers put focus on a very different demonstration of love. One that simply cannot be matched. One that the depth cannot be measured. God’s love for us and the ultimate sacrifice that demonstrated that love.
When I think of the observances of both of these significant days, the first thing that comes to my mind is 1 John 4:19. “We love because He first loved us.” When we pause and give focus to the magnitude of God’s love for us, we find ourselves in awe.
This perspective motivates me to participate in a spiritual discipline during Lent- one that I look to with excitement and anticipation. As I ponder the choice of either giving up something or adding something- I look forward to how God will grow me and my relationship with Him through this process.
Growing up, I remember friends asking “What are you giving up for Lent?” “Homework,” “Obeying my parents,” were sarcastic responses from my peers. Lent seemed to be more of a practice that I observed my Catholic friends taking seriously. It never even occurred to me that Lent was something I might actually be interested in, or benefit from, or decide to keep, or come to value as a way of getting to know God better.
In my adult years, as my relationship with Christ has matured, I now am eager for additional attention and discipline in my devotion to God. I find myself much more ready to meditate upon the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and to celebrate his victory over sin and death on Easter.
Before I began honoring Lent, Good Friday and Easter always seemed to rush by before I could give them the attention they deserved. Lenten discipline helps me prepare for a deeper celebration of Good Friday and Easter, and allows me to grow in God’s grace. Recognizing the season of Lent enriches our worship and deepens our faith in God.
Giving up something for Lent allows me to make a tangible sacrifice to the Lord. Although certain sacrifices are already present in my life, they’re sort of “built in” at this point. I don’t often experience giving up something for God on a daily basis. The act of sacrifice reminds me of my commitment to God and my desire to make Him first in my life. By giving up something I usually enjoy on a daily basis, I have sometimes found myself yearning for that thing. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to give up my Lenten fast at times. I could easily argue that it’s unnecessary (it is optional, after all) and certainly not taught in Scripture. But, though I don’t think my effort at fasting makes God love or bless me more, I do think it raises my awareness of how much I depend on other things in life rather than the Lord. I see how easy it is for me to set up all sorts of little idols in my life. Fasting, in some way, helps me surrender my idols to God. When I give up something I like and then feel an unquenched desire for it, I’m reminded of my neediness as a person. And neediness, I believe, is at the heart of true spirituality. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3, 6
Feeling hungry for one of life’s pleasures isn’t quite the same as hungering and thirsting for righteousness. But when I feel my hunger, when I sense my neediness for some other thing, I can use this to get in touch with my hunger and need for God. As I continue with my Lenten fast, I find myself less eager for the thing I’ve given up. Ironically, this makes my fast easier. It’s almost something I can take for granted, thus dulling the spiritual impact of the fast. But I’m also gratified to know that one of my little “idols” is being set aside in my heart, as I learn to depend more upon God. I’m experiencing a bit of freedom that makes me gladly thankful for God’s grace at work in me.
If you feel the desire to fast from something or add something to your daily routine in observation of Lent, I encourage you to commit. Set aside some time of quiet to ask the Lord what He wants you to do. See if the Spirit of God guides you to something. If nothing comes to mind, I’d recommend that you read a chapter of a gospel each day. If you start with Mark, you’ll have time to read all of Mark plus all of one other gospel during Lent. That is just one of many practices you might consider.
As we enter the season of Lent, I am grateful for those spiritual mentors in my life that have discovered the blessings of giving up something in Lent, while others have grown in their faith by adding a Lenten discipline. Both have been modeled to me and I have witnessed and learned from those examples. No matter what you do during this Lenten season, I pray that God will draw us closer to Him, and prepare us for a fresh experience of Good Friday and Easter.
Prayer: God what would you have me give up or take on to grow closer to you?