There is no biblical mandate for the observance of Lent, although the model is in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning His public ministry, during which He endured temptation by Satan. This whole Lenten observance was first established in the church in the 800s as a way to persuade Christians of the day to set aside some time for reflection on the upcoming tridiuum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday — reflection, repentance, self denial and prayer. I’m going to try and touch on those four thoughts — reflection, repentance, self denial and prayer.
We all have a purpose. Often, we don’t know what that purpose is or at least, recognize it. But we all have a purpose … something that makes us us, creations of God.
You see, it’s not really our purpose. It’s God’s purpose for us. That’s what we don’t quite understand. He has put us in our circumstances for a reason … perhaps to witness to someone or receive witnessing from someone … perhaps to slow us down or speed us up … perhaps to let us grow or help someone else grow. He has a purpose for us, right here, right now.
I’ll be honest, when I was younger — much younger — I didn’t realize what my purpose — His purpose — was. I generally went through the motions plying my trade and connecting with my little circle of family and friends.
But I’ve learned to recognize there is a greater purpose in play. All the good times, all the bad times, all the laughter, all the tears were designed to hone my spirit into recognizing His purpose for my life.
I still don’t always get it right. I sometimes get the “my” and “His” mixed up, but as I’ve aged, I have come to realize everything I do impacts someone else. Everything I say impacts others. Everything I write touches others — often unknown to me.
It’s our responsibility to use the talents we are given — the talents. There is no job too small done right that doesn’t honor our God. It’s not just our jobs. It’s our purpose. It’s His purpose. And it isn’t just our work or career. It’s our relationships. It’s how we deal with other people … those we love and those we aren’t quite as fond of.
It’s taken me a while to realize that. We’re all interconnected. Everyone we meet — in person or through the virtual media — is a fellow journeyman (or woman) on this walk through life. We touch each other in ways we can’t imagine. They touch us the same way. We share ideas (or reject ideas) and our personalities shine through. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not our personality. It’s the personality forged by the strengths and the weaknesses and the smiles and the tears God has given us.
Be unique. Shine. But also reflect on the thought our mission, our purpose, after all, is to reflect the work of our Creator. It’s not to forge our own path for our glory. It’s to forge a path for His glory.
That, of course, is step one. Step two is change or repentance. As we’re pondering what we do — or don’t do — in our spiritual/communal lives, we must take action. As we become more in tune with God’s plan in us, we have to take the steps to assure we’re marching to the same beat as our Lord.
Our experiences help us learn — sometimes to our regret — congregations can become so wrapped up in the form of faith, they forget the substance of faith. Going to church becomes an obligation rather than the celebration it was intended to be … a celebration of praise and thanksgiving to our Father for the gift of His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives … a celebration of repentance for our transgressions against God and our fellow man … a celebration of prayer and fellowship with others and ourselves … a celebration of our faith as told through Scripture … a celebration of our victory in Jesus Christ through the actuality of Eucharist.
Next is self-denial. During this time, it’s traditional to “give up” something — like chocolate, candy or ice cream as a kid (or as an adult). As we matured, it may have been “doing” something like extra devotional reading.
Often we do things or don’t do things only because that is what is expected. It becomes rote. It becomes routine. And the intent becomes blurred and eventually disappears.
That’s the danger we face. We don’t look at the whys anymore. We don’t challenge ourselves. Take the time this season to look for those answers. We’re not getting into heaven because we gave up chocolate for Lent. We’re giving up chocolate for Lent to recognize what Jesus gave up just by coming here to save us and allowing a portal back into heaven. Ponder that over the next few days.
Of course, our Lord was always in prayer. He was always cognizant of His Father and His Father’s will. And, yes, He didn’t particularly welcome the trials and tribulations He would have to endure during His ministry, but He turned it over to the Father. Thy will be done.
You know, I think sometimes God must get bored up there in heaven. I know I would, listening to the same old rhetoric over and over … words spilling from the lips, rote-style. “Heavenly Father this …” or “gracious God that …”
I think prayer is something else. It’s communication. It’s simply talking with God … from the heart, not the mind, from the soul, not the lips. Sometimes it’s just being in His presence without any words.
I’ve always had an open line to God. I’m not a “formal” pray-er. In the middle of a traffic jam or when in the solitude of my distress I might internally or externally scream out at God. “What the heck is going on?” I might cry, perhaps not that sedately. I can talk with God one-on-one like a friend … and I know God speaks to me as a friend. And we all know how caustic and sometimes blunt a true friend can be, cutting through all the garbage in our lives and touching our very souls.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. This week, stop praying.
Well, that got some attention.
But I am serious. Stop praying … and start talking to God from your heart. The heart is our emotional fountain. Let God know your emotions. He knows them anyway. He knows our heart. He knows our motives. He knows the truth … better than we do. Don’t masquerade your emotions with platitudes. If you’re angry with God, let Him know. But if you’re happy with God, share that joy as well with words of praise, not because that’s what should be done, but because that’s the way you feel.
Let’s be honest. Trust is extremely difficult. Our faith does get shaken. Our focus does get diverted. We retreat into ourselves or we lash out at others. We get hurt. We get disappointed. We get disillusioned. We can’t make sense of the violence or abuse or illness or even the death of someone close.
Truth is we don’t have to. There is a greater Power who has all the answers. My job — your job — isn’t to figure out the answers. My job — your job — is to trust in the God who has been there through the good and bad times. Isn’t it exciting to know we have an anchor in the storms of life?
And finally, we are told in the Gospel how Jesus was tempted after His fasting, reflection and prayer. So, don’t get discouraged when you become tempted after moving closer in step with Jesus. Satan, the great deceiver, doesn’t care about you or me. It’s his goal to derail any efforts by anyone who tries to have a deeper relationship with the Lord or spread the good news of the gospel.
I have learned through the years, the more obstacles we face when attempting to walk closer to the Lord or presenting issues of faith generally means the devil is working overtime to block the message. That was evident when I had my mini-stroke a week before a three-week date on the short side of the pulpit in New York. Something in those words must of had Satan shaking. And I’ve seen Satan’s gnarled hands at work many times before, now and since, especially as we come closer to God’s will in our lives. That’s how Satan rolls.
But the amazing thing is, we’re not alone. Jesus was tempted too. He was promised the lies of Satan.
Jesus didn’t need those promises. Neither do we. We have the Light in Jesus. He is the S-O-N shine — that’s S-O-N.
So, whenever you are tempted or discouraged or disillusioned because of delayed prayer or sudden challenges, wear the circumstance as a badge. It means you’re on the right track and caught Satan’s attention.
God’s will. God’s purpose reflected through us. May it be so this Lenten season and throughout our lives.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Don’t ever forget … for even a day … how very special you are.