Mar2MonMarch 2, 2020
This Lent I am giving up making jokes about what I am giving up . . .
This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the church season of Lent. You may have seen people with ashes smudged on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, intended as a reminder of God’s judgment on sin, in his words to Adam, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Lent is a 40 day period leading up to Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For those who observe it, it is a time of reflection, self-examination, fasting and repentance. It is a period which is traditional rather than biblical, and yet it draws on biblical traditions: Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tested and tempted, and he called people to repent and believe the Gospel. In a time when following our own desires is encouraged and expected, it can be useful to take the opportunity of Lent to seek the Lord and ask Him to search our hearts, test and try us, to see if there is any wicked way in us and lead us in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).
People sometimes give up something for Lent; it is a type of fasting. When we fast, we willingly deny ourselves in order to seek the Lord and increase our dependence on Him. Fasting from things which are good or neutral in themselves such as food, drink, desserts, social media, video games, or television can show us what we depend on or what we use to get through the day rather than leaning on God.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'" Joel 2:12-17
At the time of Joel’s prophecy, judgment had been decreed in the form of locusts (like big grasshoppers) swarming over the land, but even then, God invites people to turn back to Him, with fasting and weeping and mourning over sin. There is something to turn from and something to turn to . . . “call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
Some choose a positive practice to take on in Lent, rather than giving something up, such as memorizing Scripture, a regular time of prayer, or serving the poor.
Over the years, I have practiced various types of fasts at Lent, sometimes giving up coffee or chocolate or desserts. This time, it’s desserts. Maybe I’ll lose some weight too! Does this mean that I have mixed motives, and that somehow my fast isn’t really for God? Maybe. But fasting isn’t a work, done to earn merit with God. It’s saying no to something I want, in order to remember God and call on Him at that moment. It’s an opportunity to enlarge a space for God in my daily routine and in my awareness
I’m also calling us to a positive action, to join together in prayer on Wednesdays in Lent, 12-1 at the church. The focus for this hour of prayer is outreach to those far from God. A few days ago, I woke up with this burden on my heart, to reach lost people and to pray and call for prayer for that purpose. If you’re not able to come in to the church, you can take this time to pray at home, or perhaps your small group would take extra time to pray in your meeting. If you’re working, maybe you can find a few moments at your lunch time to lift up people in your life who need God’s grace.
Let’s encourage each other this Lent to draw near to God and seek Him!