I grew up in a mainline denomination, and there were aspects about it that I admired and other features that were not particularly helpful. One thing that I appreciated, and that I miss, is its emphasis on the church calendar.
My family always went to church on Wednesday nights during Lent, and my parents still do. I was not always a willing participant in that practice in my childhood, but I do fondly remember those services. They were reminders of how desperately we need what Jesus did for us.
If I had not been exposed to Lent in my younger years I would have little knowledge of what it means. In fact, I confess that my understanding is a little rusty. A quick google search reminded me that Lent is the 40 days before Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday, and it is to be a time of fasting, repentance, and generosity.
In other words, it is a time to do a spiritual reset.
I can get very focused on what I’m doing, and while I know the truth about who God is and who I am in his sight, it’s not always front and center in my thinking. Lent brings that that good news to the forefront of my mind.
Reset my view of God
God knew at the beginning of time that we need a Savior, and he put into motion a plan to give us himself, his Son, as the sacrificial offering for our sins. Jesus was fully God, and at the same time he was also completely human. It’s a mystery, but one that I believe Scripture clearly teaches. Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, and he also fulfilled all of the prophecies about his birth, life, suffering and death.
Passages of Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane, his betrayal, arrest, beating, and death are devastating. Even after hearing them all these years, they are difficult to apprehend.
It’s healthy to be overwhelmed by what Jesus did for us. I’m embarrassed to admit that I can get blase about it; Jesus died for my sins. Yep, he did. Ok, what’s next? Every year during Lent, I am reminded of Jesus’s suffering for my sins and of his unimaginable love for me, a sinner.
It sounds simple and cliche, but the amazing truth is that God loves us! He is for us. He wants the best for us. Why else would Jesus have willingly died such a miserable death when he was the only individual in the history of the world who did not deserve to die?
God loves you. He really does, and if that’s hard to believe, read the passion narrative and ask yourself why Jesus did it. He loves you.
Reset my view of myself
When my view of God is reset, it’s easier to see myself through his eyes. He has adopted me into his family and has made me his child. Jesus is my big brother. Astonishing.
Yet, I am still a sinner. Here is another mystery: I am God’s child, and he has forgiven all my sins, and yet I still sin, make mistakes, and do unkind things. But my position doesn’t change: I am still his child.
Confronting the pain that my sin brought upon Jesus is rough. To imagine Jesus enduring such physical, emotional and spiritual agony, and realizing that I contributed to the sin that he was dying for makes me feel awful. God doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up for our sins and leave it at that. He would rather we take an honest look at our sins, confess, mourn, and repent of them and accept his forgiveness. Then he promises to purify us.
When my view of myself has been reset, I feel humble, valued, loved, and more dependent on my Father. Tim Keller said it well,
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. The Reason for God, p. 187
At its most basic, Christianity is belief in a God who loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for our sins, and since death couldn’t hold him, Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave and offers us eternal life.
Lent is a time to restore yourself spiritually and to remember the astonishing truth of the gospel.
Do you observe Lent? Why or why not?
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23
Photo by Chris Dixon on Unsplash
Oh yes. I love the spiritual rhythm of a liturgical calendar, Sunday to Sunday and day to day. During this Lenten journey, I focus more on sacrificial living, rest, renewal than I do at other times in the year. I remember as a kid feeling like this season was kind of depressing when we went to church on Wednesdays and Sundays. Somber hymns, prayers, and a heaviness. But as I’ve matured, I understand better. I embrace the season because for me it nurtures humility, thoughtfulness, self-reflection and, of course, a focus on Christ’s final days, His Passion, His sacrifice for me. Holy Week is such a beautiful prelude to Easter Sunday. Powerful, prayerful, sanctifying. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on why I observe the traditions of Lent. It’s a blessing!