This year Lent begins March 1st. A preaching journal I once subscribed to devoted an entire issue to this season of the church year. Keith A. Russell, The Editor-in-Chief, opened the issue by frankly pointing out that the Lenten tradition “seems out of step” with our current age. “Lent promises no immediate result, no instant answer, no dazzling communication from on high. Rather, Lent is a call to disciplined inquiry and patient searching after the presence of God.” Later in his article he asks, “Is there still a place for self-denial and delayed gratification in our age? Can we find ourselves by losing ourselves, by denying ourselves?”
Self-denial, delayed gratification and personal discipline are common themes in the struggle to create and maintain healthy boundaries in life. They are important for balance in one’s personal life and also for balance in our relationships with others. There is not only a place for these; there is a need for these. Scripture teaches us that we are not made for perpetual work. We need rest. Neither are we made for perpetual consumption. We need restraint. We are well-developed consumers. Restraint and discipline require intentional willpower. God knows this about us. After all God created us! So, God gave us the command to observe a Sabbath and perhaps more importantly God has given us permission to take Sabbath rest. We, if we allow ourselves, can do so guilt free. The Sabbath is meant to be our day of rest. Likewise, Lent is our season of restraint.
Keith Russell, in the quote above, mentions “Disciplined inquiry and patient searching after the presence of God.” The season of Lent is not just “the time of the year we give up something.” Modern culture, if there is any recognition of Lent at all, makes it little more than that. As Christians, our practices should remind the world it is much more than that. One year while growing up I gave up M&Ms for Lent. Someone once pushed my thinking with the question, “What does that have to do with Jesus?” Indeed! The question made it clear to me I had inadvertently bought into the world’s “Non-Jesus” view of Lent. We cannot allow ourselves to slip into the “Non-Jesus” view of any “Christian” tradition. Christmas is Jesus’ Birth. It is not “just a season.” It is not “just a holiday.” It is Jesus’ Birth! Easter is not “Easter Eggs and Bunnies.” It is not “Fancy new clothes.” It is not just family dinner at Grandma’s & Grandpa’s. Easter is Jesus’ Resurrection. Lent is not just “giving something up.” It is the time of the year whereupon Christians are called upon to devote more time to Disciplined Inquiry about and the Patient Searching for the presence of God.
Self-denial can be a way to greater connection with God. Scripture reminds us that God’s strength and presence are often made more perfect and clearer during our times of weakness. Doing without can help us be more diligent and successful in our search for and understanding of God. But, closeness to God has to be our objective not just self-deprivation. It is when we come face to face with our own needs or shortcomings that we are often most able to know the greatness of God’s power and experience the peace of his presence.
Our mission Committee is preparing a Lenten Devotional for us to use beginning on Ash Wednesday. As March 1st draws close please look for it and use it in your own personal Disciplined Inquiry and Patient Searching. God is present and is eager to be experienced. I pray that Lent will be a time of great blessing in your life.
In Christ’s Love and Service,