Lent begins today, so what?
Well, since the earliest of times in the Christian Church, followers of Jesus have observed some form of season of preparation in the time leading up to the greatest Christian festival of Easter (or Resurrection Sunday / Paschal Sunday depending on where you live and worship).
This preparation time has seen an emphasis on acts of penance for wrongdoing, and a strong practice of fasting (going without some food, or all food for a set period) as a way of focusing the mind and spirit on the things of God.
In our contemporary culture this has morphed into giving up other things, like coffee, chocolate, social media, newspapers, buying clothes, alcohol etc. And, along with this, we seem to have lost the idea that it is a season of preparation so that we are fully ready to enter into the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection free from distractions and other desires. Now, it seems, it’s a season to break a habit or to have a bit of a purge, or spiritual detox before life continues as normal.
Observing Lent is not a practice the Bible commands, or even speaks of, although fasting and preparation are continual themes throughout the Old and New Testaments, and are examples of the ways in which people might prepare themselves to be closer to God, or get ready to perform some great act of faith.
So, what about us, now? Well, in 2020, as Lent begins, I want to suggest it might be better for you, for me, for our neighbours, for the nation, for the planet as well as for the sake of seeing people encounter God, that instead of avoiding the alcohol, shunning the sugar or forgetting facebook, we might actually engage in adoration through activity.
There’s a passage in the Bible that over the years has come to mean a lot to me, and has become something of a challenge to myself and my family about that kind of life that pleases God. You’ll find it in Isaiah 58. Through the prophet, God challenges a whole nation. They appear to have been crying out to God for His guidance, and then wondering why His direction did not appear to come, and so God names the behaviours they have been engaging in that caused them to be unable to hear Him or know Him.
Turned their backs on the commands of God
Used their positions of relative power to exploit their employees
Reduced the spiritual life to a matter of religious activities
Devised a definition of holiness that was based on self-denial
Walked out of worship, then straight into warring with each other
And God tells them what true fasting looks like, the kind of fasting that pleases Him.
He says that if they want to live a holy life, and truly know Him and live in His ways they should:
Loosen chains of oppression
Set people free from things that enslave them
Destroy anything that has power to oppress and enslave people
Share food with hungry people
Provide shelter and welcome to the homeless
Ensure people are warmly clothed
Live in the realisation that all people are loved by God, and that we have a shared humanity
Do away with pointing fingers, gossip, malicious accusations
Use all the resources God has entrusted you with to take care of those with nothing
Look after those people you are making free
If we live this way God says:
We will live in light, like hope arising after the darkest depression
Wholeness, healing, life in it’s fullest becomes a possibility and a reality
You won’t have to make a name for yourself, because the good news of what God is doing through you will become your reputation
You will know the security that comes from an inner reality of the presence of God
You will see and hear the answers to prayers, and find hidden reserves of grace and strength
God will be close enough for you to hear Him say “here I am” in the midst of difficulty
Your heart and spirit be refreshed, just like the beautiful moment the first rain hits a sun-scorched desert
Where despair had infected whole communities, hope will come
So, on this first day of Lent, I want to challenge you to forgo fruitless fasting, and adopt an attitude of authentic and affirmative activity.
Use this season of preparation to ensure that when Easter comes, it will be the celebration of the reality that you’ve been living in for the previous seven weeks.
Let your activity in the world bring hope you and to others.
Resist the easy path of a temporary abstention from a pleasure, and learn instead to find delight in a lifestyle of true holiness, living a life marked with grace and generosity that flows not from duty, but from a profound appreciation of all that God has done to show you that you are loved, precious, wanted and free.
I’d love to read in the comments what practical steps we might take together to live this out this year, and then always.