Last night (Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day…whichever way you want to identify it), several hundred Gracers across all generations gathered together to observe the beginning of Lent. Lent is the season of the church calendar leading up to Easter. It’s a period of examination, reflection, and refraining…all with the purpose of returning to the Lord. “Instead of sprinting to the cross during Holy Week,” Rena Tolson shared, “Lent gives us the opportunity to let God do a substantial work in us, culminating in the cross and the empty tomb.”
It was a sweet time of worship, Scripture, reflection, ashes, communion, and praying for one another. Several folks shared that, next to Easter, this was their favorite gathering. As a part of the gathering, I invited everyone to consider: What could be standing in the way, distracting from, causing me to settle for less than, the LOVE of God for me in Christ? What do I look to for satisfaction instead of the love of Christ?
We had stones with a category written on each. General categories such as vanity, comfort, approval, security, escape, sex, and a [write your own]. We invited each person to take a rock and hold on to it for the 40 days, asking God to do a work of renovation when it comes to that area – to point us back to our first love for Jesus.
(By the way – if you didn’t pick up a rock or weren’t there, we’ll have some available in the east end of the lobby this weekend.)
Throughout Lent, I’m going to be giving you a little encouragement for the journey. Actually, this exercise is more for me than for you because I feel like I’m going to need the most encouragement! Let me begin with a resource for the Lenten season, and then jog your imagination for fasting.
A Good Lenten Devotional. If you don’t have one picked out, now is the time to get one. May I suggest to you “Journey to the Cross” by Will Walker and Kendal Haug? It’s Gospel-centered, Word-saturated, and thought-provoking. It’s also very doable in terms of length each day. You can download the PDF for free and then purchase the book just published last year. Choose something that will intentionally get you into the Word and help you create some space to pray, think, and reflect. This year, I’m reading a Lenten devo by Walter Brueggemann called, “A Way Other Than Our Own.”
What to give up? Here’s the most popular question when it comes to Lent. Aside from the usual fare of coffee, sweets, Internet, etc., are there other things that we can give up? I want my fast to have meaning, not just be a rote practice. On the other hand, just saying you’ll give up pride or anger is not legitimate because all of those attitudes are undergirded by practices/habits. Pride shows up in specific ways as does anger. So, if you really want to get at those attitudes, think about the behavior that reinforces them. As I asked last night, what behaviors/habits could stand in the way of me being satisfied by the love of God? I’ve decided to experiment with a few things:
- A consumer fast from material goods like clothing and other non-necessities. I want to test my heart in terms of contentment and simplicity.
- Refraining from a second helping (another serving, a refill, etc.). I think I might have the tendency to push beyond what is enough, so I want to learn to be just less than satisfied when it comes to food.
- Giving up pushing the snooze button. I think that one’s pretty obvious.
In the past, I had refrained from the 3 Cs: coffee, caffeine, carbonation, but over the years, I’ve come to see that those things don’t necessarily keep me from God. (In fact, a nice hot cup of coffee is a routine way for me to settle down into time with God!)
Remember that the point of this is not to try and impress Jesus or show others how spiritual I am. Rather, I am trying to remove those practices that could artificially satisfy me instead of Jesus. Beneath every hunger is a deeper desire, and so I’ll experiment through Lent to see how I’m trying to fulfill my deeper desires with things besides Jesus.
What about you? How do you sense the Lord drawing you back to him during this Lenten season? What resources have you found helpful? What obstacles might be in the way? Leave a comment below.