Oh, restore us. (Psalm 60:1)
Most scholars believe that Christians have been observing Lent since the fourth century. Some have it dating even further back in church history. Whatever the case, what begins today, on Ash Wednesday, is part of a rich tradition of Christians preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Growing up Baptist, I was not familiar with Lent. It wasn’t until much later in my early adult life that I read a book by Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, when I began exploring how Lent could be used by God to draw me closer to His Son, Jesus. That was about twenty years ago! Since then, there are two facets of this season that I have come to really appreciate.
First, the Lenten fast is a time to take inventory. It is a time to turn away from distractions that begin cluttering our view of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (11:1, ESV). For the next 40 days, we return to the basis of our hope, which is the gospel (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). It is a time to ruthlessly take inventory of that on which I have focused my heart. Moreover, it is time to refocus on that which I cannot see but that is no less true! This is more than what we see with our eyes; this has to do with that which has captured our imagination.
Whether you abstain from certain things or decide to engage in certain spiritual disciplines (or some combination of both -- which I recommend), remember these efforts work on you, not God! As someone once pointed out, the stars don't need the darkness to shine! I need the darkness in order to see the shinning stars! The fast, then, is like turning down the lights so that we can see what has been shinning for all of eternity! To be sure, sitting in the darkness of your fast won't earn you pat on the back at Easter. These are acts of faith, total dependence upon God, through which God mercifully pours out His grace. We aren’t fasting in order to get closer to God; we are close to God in Christ and therefore we reach for Him in our fasting.
Secondly, Lent is a communal journey. Followers of Christ all over the world are taking part in this journey leading to the empty tomb from whence Jesus rose! More importantly, it is essential to find a group of Christ’s followers locally who are on this journey and praying for each other along the way. This isn’t a time to brag or complain about your fast! Instead, it is a time to pray for one another and to encourage one another. It is always true, and no less so during Lent, we are not meant to take steps of faith in isolation. We thrive as members of the Body of Christ!
So, here’s the question I’m going to be asking myself during Lent:
What must I continue to die to in order that I might live more fully in Christ?
I want this question to lead me to Calvary so that I can join my resurrected Lord in the garden! I want this question to lead me beyond Lent and to the abundant life secured for me in Jesus. For, as the Apostle Paul says:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20, ESV).
Glory to God!