Shownotes. Episode 037: How to Be Sure that You Do not Lose Lent
We’re firmly in the season of Lent in our Christian communities. Well, not all, but among those who observe it, here we are. Observe—we can observe by involvement, recognizing and participating. Or, we can observe by standing afar and looking on, having but not having. Really losing. What happens if you lose Lent?
You see if you are a pastor, ministry leader or active in some other way, you could easily lose Lent. If you’re not, just be aware that this could just as easily happen to you.
Each year, the 40-day observance of Lent comes around. It’s something you plan for at some point. You may make some plans at the beginning of your church year. Certainly, when the new year rolls around you get concrete on what Lent would look like in your church; how you will lead the congregation in this observance. Do you look for something new? Do you always need something new?
Lent. A time to pause, otherwise how will we repent, pray and fast, and prepare; prepare for the Passion and Resurrection. Each of these requires pausing from what is routine for a more intentional way of embracing Lent.
Yet the routine has a way of crowding out that which is out of the ordinary and of importance; that which challenges us to go inward. For in many ways, Lent is an inward journey that cannot be completed in a rush, in a hurry.
Jesus in the Wilderness. Don’t Lose Lent
Can you imagine Jesus rushing through the 40 days in the desert. Do you think he went, “Oh my. Let me hurry through these 40 days so that I can get into ministry. So many people need me?”
40 days in the wilderness, led there by the Spirit. The Spirit has a way of sending us to places we would rather not traverse. But, so it is. Yes. Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness without food . . . imagine that. 40 days and then, boom, attack. An attack that covered key aspects of this world’s system as laid out in 1 John 2:16. Let’s go from 15–17 from the Common English Bible.
Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
- The craving for what the body feels: You’re hungry. Use your power in a self-serving way to satisfy your craving. It’s genuine.
- The craving for what the eyes see: See these kingdoms of the world and their splendor? You can have them.
- The arrogant pride in one’s possessions: There’s a crossover here for the temptation was to have and take pride in the kingdoms of the world and their splendor? You can have them. Moreover, the temptation was to take pride in the ability to command angels who would come and rescue Jesus from a foolhardy stunt that was designed as a proud and arrogant display of the power he possessed.
Lent. 40 days of repenting, | praying and fasting, | and preparing.
But, what if you lose it? What if you lose Lent? What if amidst the special services and ensuring that things are in place for Lent and Easter you lose the opportunity to repent?
Don’t Lose Lent in the Midst of Repenting
Repentance. Not a casual, “oops.” Not a, “Did I do that?” and continue on as usual. Not even a flippant, “I’m sorry.” No. Repentance. A deep acknowledgment of the wrong done to God and others, including self. What are some of these wrongs?
- Habits that detract from who we are as God’s chosen and appointed.
- Obsessions, especially with possessions including service we do in and out of church.
- Addictions to power, having our own way, drugs, pornography, praise.
- Greed, which is idolatry, wanting to have it all and displacing God in the process; dethroning and putting a new ruler in place.
The list goes on for we are talking about the craving for what the body feels, what the eyes see, and the arrogant pride in our possessions.
And we are in Lent, the perfect reminder to stop, acknowledge where these are present in our lives and then go to God in deep contrition, and to our neighbor as well if necessary. Moreover, we go past emotion, if we are to embrace repentance in its fullness.
“I’m sorry” can be simply an emotional release or a duty to fulfill. However, repentance is in the act that shows a commitment which gives “I’m sorry” teeth.
“I’m sorry.” Empty words without concurrent actions that show a change in behavior. And, we are in Lent. Do we lose Lent or are we truly in Lenten mode where repentance is a happening thing?
Perhaps that is why self-denial is such a big part of Lent. We journey with Jesus and his 40-day fast. We also turn from that which is a big part of our lives; perhaps that which even controls us. This begs the question, why do this for Lent, why not for our entire lives?
Fasting and Self-Denial without prayer? You could lose Lent
Moving on: what if the self-denial, the turning away from pleasures, which may be fine in themselves, becomes that possession in which we now take pride; pride that we have observed Lent. What if in observing in this way we lose Lent?
It is no wonder that prayer and fasting go together. When all we do is fast in the traditional sense of restraining from good at set periods for a set length of time, or fast in the sense of deny ourselves particular things for Lent and we don’t accompany this with prayer, we run into the danger of doing things for the sake of doing them. This gives a foothold for pride (can’t get away from pride) as well as losing the spiritual significance.
There is merit in doing things for the sake of doing them. However, how much better when in our doing we are conscious of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and therefore are able to continually offer it up to God. In this way God is able to continue to purify and refine us to God’s greater glory. In this way, we do it for God and not for us. God is then able to do more with us.
Moreover, as we do our fasting and self-denials with full awareness and unto God, we can practice replacement. It is interesting that in Isaiah 58, as he talks about the fast, in verse 10 he points to it being a time to offer your food to the poor. What do you do with the space in time or finances that is created during this time. Do you offer it to the poor, to God? With what do you replace it? Decide for it will be replaced. That’s what the devil tried to do with Jesus–replace his hunger with vanity and self–serving, self-gratifying actions.
Thus, be sure that what you give up is not replaced with pride. As we noted earlier, you can take pride in the giving up, in the fasting. This does not serve God, yourself, nor others.
Here is what I mean. Pride displaces God. It becomes about us and not about God’s glory. We turn from God’s limitlessness to our limited being and our limitations. It’s no wonder James in James 4:7 reminds us that “God resists the proud.” Yes. Affirm the good but leave the pride behind. Don’t lose Lent. Focus instead on its spiritual significance.
Why do we go through Lent in this way, those of us who observe it? It’s to constantly remind ourselves of who we are in the light of God’s story and glory through the fasting and self-denials. Prayer is key in this reminder that this is not just an exercise in discipline. It is not to lose a few pounds. It is not to have the satisfaction of knowing that we can do this; that we can give up something for a while.
Those are never the goal. They are by-products that can easily trip us, especially when we end the Lenten period. Thinking of ending Lent with a pat on your shoulder? Think again. End it with prayer and the Scriptures.
Prayer. Being constant and fervent in prayer keeps us aligned with God, what God wants, the why of Lent, and feeds our souls and spirits to be of greater use and glory to God. Prayer throughout and especially at the end. We do not have to lose Lent.
Lent. 40 days of repenting, | praying and fasting, | and preparing.
Preparing what? Preparing for what? Do not lose Lent
I think for pastors and ministry leaders preparation may be the biggest trap. During Lent, we can’t help but prepare for Easter (after Good Friday, of course). After all, it is the big hurrah, the big opportunity for many will come who will not normally do so. Outside of that, it is the biggest day of the year, when everything was overturned and sin and death were defeated. Nothing less than the best for those of us who believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again. It is a resounding triumph that continues to reverberate down through the ages. Prepare.
It is easy to lose the immediate preparation of Lent—the inner preparation.
The inner preparation is often clouded over by the “so-much-to-do” to be ready for Easter. Yet, how did Jesus prepare? Not by focusing on Easter but by being prayerful and obedient, avoiding distractions and remaining focused on his purpose.
Prayerful and obedient. To be obedient we need prayer. Prayer for strength to endure. Prayer for our hearts to be open to know what God wants. Prayers for the grace to obey. Preparation without prayer is vanity for it presupposes that we can do this on our own; that it is our work, our lives.
knew that his life was not his own. There were distractions right through, even during Holy Week. People sought his attention, people sought his miracles and not him, people were offended by what he said about himself, the disciples didn’t want him to speak of unpleasant things happening to him . . . You get the picture. When we go back to his 40-day sojourn in the wilderness, we see a major distraction. The devil attacked him like a ton of bricks. Yet, it was subtle, it was appropriate to the situation, it was all within the realm of possibility.
Preparation. Knowing ourselves and our situations and the weaknesses inherent in them. Recognizing that when we are at our weakest physically and spiritually all the more we need to call upon the name of the Lord and be found in God.
Preparing to filter out distractions. To not be shifted by people who just need attention, who need something amazing because they are bored with the ordinary, who are offended by our specific call, who want us to say only words that soothe, never disturb . . . Preparation that recognizes our vulnerability, our areas of weakness where we are prone to trip, to fall; that recognizes what dazzles us and can subtly creep in and overtake us.
This is preparation to be a vessel that God can constantly use because it is not distracted but focused on purpose.
Why. Why does God have you here in general and in specifics? Why does God have you where you are doing what you are doing? Of course if you are there because you want and not because God wants, this Lent is a time to repent and make the move into where God would have you to be.
Anyway, assuming we are where God wants us to be, why? Know your why and keep focused on it. Strange as it may seem, it is easy to shift during Lent as we get caught up in what is “supposed” to happen during Lent, leading up to Easter. Don’t do that. How does God want you to work out your purpose during Lent is the more pertinent question?
Preparation. What is preparation without the Word of God? When we take a good look at Jesus during the temptations, it is evident that he was prepared. He had an internal fortitude that in the face of hunger could resist the temptations that tugged at the craving of his flesh and eyes and the arrogant pride in possessions. “It is written,” he said. “It is written,” like the refrain to each temptation. “It is written,” like the anchor that keeps you from drifting. “It is written. Don’t even bring that out of context Scripture to me for I know what is written.”
There is no doubt that learning the Scriptures were a key part of Jesus’ preparation.
How are they a part of our preparation. When faced with temptation do we have to pull out our iPad or phone or other device to find the appropriate verse or do we know them? The Psalmist wrote, “I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” How are the Scriptures our refrain, our anchor and our sword?
Why not challenge yourself to memorize a chapter of the Bible during this year’s Lent? Let’s do that this Lent.
Now for an announcement. We will be going to an every other week schedule beginning in March.
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Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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