So, we have eaten our pancakes and now it is Lent but do we really understand what it is all about? We may know someone who is giving up chocolate for Lent but I’m fairly convinced that this sort of thing is not really what Lent is about.
Lent is a 40 day period in the Christian calendar which remembers Jesus and his 40 days and nights in the wilderness.
Mark 1 says,
9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.
Lent is traditionally observed by people giving up (or trying to give up) things for 40 days in order to remember that Jesus also gave up things and went through a difficult time in the wilderness.
I need to confess right here that I have never really celebrated (if that is even the right word?) Lent. It has never been a part of my life or Christian faith, but if it was I’m not sure I would worry about having to give anything up. Read the passage from Mark again and ask yourself if the key message is really that Jesus gave something up?
So, Jesus went into the wilderness. The real question is why? Was it a random act? Was it a whim?
God led Jesus and so if anything, Lent should primarily be a time when we focus on hearing and being obedient to God.
The Holy Spirit compels Jesus to go to the wilderness.
Compels reminds me of trying to get a toddler into a car seat that they really don’t want to sit in. Wrestling ensues until by sheer strength and determination they (hopefully anyway) end up safely strapped in.
Compels reminds me of a boss telling an employee that they have to complete a piece of work that they really don’t want to do or they are fired.
Compels reminds me of the determination that causes someone who is scared of heights to climb a ladder
Jesus is compelled to go into the wilderness and he chose to go willingly rather than begrudgingly. Jesus was willing to trust his heavenly father who had just reminded him how much he loved him. Jesus trusts God his father even though he could see that the way ahead was going to be difficult.
We can give up loads of stuff for Lent and even sign up for programmes that take 40 days but if we don’t try to hear and be led by God then we really are missing the point of what the Lent story is primarily all about.
Giving things up is a really important part of the Christian faith and the Bible speaks a lot about making sacrifices but the truth is that Jesus went into the wilderness once not every year. I want to make a sacrifice when God leads me to or because it is the right thing to do, not because it is the right time of year.
During this school holidays, I have been involved in leading a project giving a free meal to children who would have received a free meal if they were at school. The involvement of the whole team running this amazing project and Orchard Baptist Church which is funding the project above what people are donating is costly. Everyone involved is giving something up, we feel led to try to make a difference and we are doing it because it is the right thing to do, not because it is Lent.
For me, Lent isn’t necessarily a time to give things up or even necessarily a time to be generous in an unusual way as another well known campaign is encouraging us to do.
Lent should be a reminder to us that we need to listen to God and that our obeying what he says will sometimes result in us giving things up, at other times us blessing people or perhaps it will impact our lives in some other way.
How will you make time to listen to God?
Why not start be reading Mark 1?