We are in the middle of a week where the Church calendar points Christians to the Lenten Season. For those who are not familiar with following Lent, it is a 40 day period—excluding Sundays—from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday, which signifies the night of the Last Supper.
The word, ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, which means, ‘Spring.’ So, in essence, we are looking forward to the budding of new life and growth after a season of winter. For centuries, the Church has practiced the Lenten season with some form or another of fasting and also preparations to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Experts have said that it takes roughly 21 days to form a good habit. In the Lenten season, you have double the time. The Lenten season, however, is not a period to merely start a diet. Moreover, it is a time for deep introspection with the help of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging that we can only survive with the mercy and grace of our Savior, forming new and strengthening already existing spiritual disciplines, and last but not least, looking forward to our Lord Jesus Christ who makes all things new.
Firstly, this is a time for deep introspection. This is a precious time to be open, bare, and utterly honest with yourself before God. This is a time to look into the deep recesses of our hearts and see where we have drifted away from our first love. In Revelations 2:4-5, we can see Jesus bringing this charge against the church in Ephesus, “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” In which areas of our lives have we fallen out of total love and submission to Jesus? Is he still the center of your life? Is he the center of your home? Is he the center of your decisions? Have we resorted to having God as a piece of the proverbial pie in the sky, instead of having him be in the center and penetrating every aspect of our lives?
This is a time to examine and see what stands between you and God. Is it a habit? Is it a relationship? Is there someone you need to forgive? Have you replaced quiet time with the Lord and your family with your smartphone? Have you taken a good thing and made it into an idol? During the next 40 days, we have the time to say what David said in Psalm 19:12-14:
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
But I caution you to approach introspection in the light of the Gospel. We are, by nature, sinful. We are wicked. Our thoughts, desires, and actions will never measure up to God’s standards of perfection. If you are honest with yourself, you will always reach a level of despondency concerning your sinful nature which is incurable. That is why you need to go through this examination in the light of the Gospel.
Know that you cannot achieve a good standing with God by what you do or not do. Also at the same time, the God of the Bible, is not someone who takes sin lightly. Father God is a God of justice and he hates sin. The first part of Habakkuk 1:13 says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” Paul agrees with our anguish in Romans 7: 21-25, when he says, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But, look! Right when we are about to give up on ourselves, Paul gives us the solution in the next line, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
“Now, the reason to fast from something is not just to deny yourself. Rather, it is to engage with the Lord.”
Secondly, this is a time to look at our spiritual disciplines and see how we can grow. Do you look forward to your quiet time with the Lord each day? Are you excited about it? Or do you find yourself in a rut—bored and discontented with your routine? During the next 40 days, you have a great opportunity to look over how you pray, read the Bible, engage in other spiritual practices, and see how you can bring more excitement and life into it.
Here are a few suggestions that has enriched my time with the Lord:
- The Lenten season beckons us to some form of fasting. It can be fasting from food by not eating a meal or by fasting for a whole day once a week. It can include abstaining from eating a certain food such as chocolate, desserts, or meat for the next 40 days. It can be a fast from watching TV or social media. Now, the reason to fast from something is not just to deny yourself. Rather, it is to engage with the Lord. For example, if you decide to fast from television, you would use that time to spend time with the Lord or in community with other Christians. It is a great reminder for us in 2016 that none of these things that we surround ourselves with—which necessarily are not bad things—can save us. It will remind you that only Jesus can satiate your hungry and thirsty heart, soul, and mind.
- During this Lenten season, you can make a commitment to read the whole Bible cover to cover. This is something that many Christians promise to do at the beginning of the calendar year. If you haven’t done so already, this is a great time to start it. I know it seems daunting at first. You can divide it into a one-year, two-year, or even three-year plan. After I’ve finished an entire chapter, I put a small check mark next to the chapter number. I feel a sense of accomplishment after I’ve done it and it motivates me to keep reading.
- This is a great time to be around other Christians in fellowship. Friends, the Christian life is not meant to be lived out in solitude. You need to be surrounded by people who love the Lord. I know it’s not easy to open up and be vulnerable with other people. Maybe you’ve been hurt and burned in the past by people you did church with. Maybe you didn’t fit in when you tried small groups before. I implore you to try again. Why not step out of your comfort zone and try a ladies’ group or a couple’s group or attend a group where you are more comfortable with people who speak your native language like a Hindi service? How about getting together with other Christians to visit a nursing home and share God’s love with the residents there? The payoff will be huge.
Lastly, following Lent for the next 40 days, will prepare us for Easter Sunday. Think about the life of Jesus Christ. Here was a man who claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed that God in heaven was his Father and that he sent him down to earth to save humanity and whoever would believe in him would have eternal life. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus talked about the reality of hell more than anyone else in the Bible. If you think about it, he made such preposterous statements. Friends, everything Jesus Christ said was the truth, because he rose from the dead. This is huge! Don’t live your entire life and miss this! Friends, hundreds of people were crucified before and after Jesus. What made Jesus’ death significant? He is the only one to prophesy his death and resurrection and actually accomplish it! History proves that Jesus Christ existed, he lived his life testifying that he is the Son of God, was crucified on the cross, and three days later, he rose from the dead! We know what we believe to be is the truth, because Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. We know what will happen to us after we die, because Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead.
Following Lent for the next 40 days will help us to look inside our hearts and see if God is still the center of our lives. It will reveal the devastation of sin in our lives and in the world and that the only thing that can save us from a life of utter despair is a life with Jesus Christ. Secondly, it will help us to foster spiritual disciplines in our lives to enrich our walk with the Lord and with others. Finally, it will build anticipation in us for Easter Sunday which is the cornerstone of our faith. I hope and pray the next 40 days will increase your love and devotion for Jesus Christ and for his extravagant heart in saving you and me from ourselves and from a life of emptiness.
- Friend, if you are reading this and you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, would you please consider inviting him into your life? You may have climbed the stairs to success and achieved all you dreamt of and still find yourself empty, wondering if there’s more to life than accolades and awards. Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Some of you may be in romantic relationships with the partner of your dreams and still find yourself to be void and searching for something or someone who will satisfy you. Friend, there is nothing and no one who can satisfy our cravings other than the one who made us. We have a God-shaped hole in each of our hearts. That hole can only be filled by Jesus. God in heaven loved us—beyond our ability to conceive of love—and send his darling and only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us. Would you please consider asking Jesus Christ into your life? You don’t have to make any promises. You don’t have to appear more presentable than you are now for Jesus to come into your life. He loves you just as you are right now. He gave up his life for you. If you would like to ask Jesus to come into your life, please pray this prayer with me: Jesus, I need you. I am a mess without you. Would you please come into my heart? Would you please fill the God-shaped hole in my heart? Would you fill my life with peace and joy that only you can give? Thank you Jesus for loving me as I am and coming into my heart. Amen.
- Scriptures to memorize:
- Revelations 2:4-5: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
- Psalm 19: 12-14: But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
- Habakkuk 1:13: Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
- Romans 7:21-25, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
- John 14:6: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.