Last night, I was especially restless, a thousand thoughts bouncing off my brain, every one in a direction. We just finished celebrating my oldest son’s 5th birthday. A joyous day. Until on the ride home from dinner my daughter threw up. At that point, I was done.
Last week, the Powells played tag with the flu. Everyone person had an opportunity to be “it.” This coming on the heels of 33 days in India, riding the emotional ups and down of a new daughter and the crap we endured bringing her home.
I was having a Psalm 22 moment.
“Okay God. I’m trying to keep my head above water here. And I’m not the best swimmer. Short arms and torso, you know. Just a small reminder of your presence would be nice. I’m not asking for much, maybe a punching bag or something.”
But the punching didn’t come. So I did what any God-fearing Millennial would do.
I opened Twitter.
Scrolling through, I ran across a photo with one word, “Lent.” The moment my eyes caught the word, my heart ceased it’s worrying. My spirit connected with something. That something, I believe, was my spiritual rhythm.
Lent wasn’t part of my spiritual upbringing. It was weird, really. The pictures I saw included dust and cultish looking crosses on everyone’s forehead. And when people referenced it, they used the word “lenten,” which sounds more like a salad at Panera Bread than a spiritual tradition.
But it’s really not weird, not in a cultish sense, at least. Lent is, very simply, an invitation to leave excess behind, to fast and reflect on the ways of Jesus. And I believe it provides spiritual rhythm to the days and weeks leading up to Easter.
Here are a few life-changing messages Lent proclaims.
Lent is a reminder that true life ultimately includes a cross.
If you know anything about Lent, it’s probably the giving up one thing part. Most people who observe Lent use it as a glorified self-improvement exercise. They fast from chocolate or TV or their boss.
But this isn’t at all what Lent is about. The fasting part, yes. But the self-improvement? Not so much.
Fasting is a means to the End, Jesus. Most of us are willing to sacrifice a thing or two. But the big question Lent asks is, “Are you willing to die?” Will you let go of yourself for a greater purpose?
Lent says the abundant life always includes a cross.
If we learn anything from the life, death and resurrection, we learn that true life includes a cross. You won’t find the abundant life any other way. I, for one, need this message. I hear it no where else. Instead, I hear that true joy can be bought or acquired. Without continued reflection on the gospel, I tend to avoid words like sacrifice and surrender.
Lent is a call to repent.
After 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus emerges with this message. “Repent of your sins and turn to God…” John the Baptist, in preparing the way for Jesus, echoes similar words. Repentance is central to the way of Jesus, it seems.
This isn’t trendy. It won’t go viral. It’s scandalous, actually. You must repent.
To repent simply means to change. But don’t confuse simplicity with ease. Repentance has a painfully hard message. You are the problem.
Your friend isn’t the problem, neither is your co-worker, your spouse or your circumstances. Your President and church leaders aren’t your problem either. You know the man in the mirror? He’s the problem.
This message got Jesus killed. That’s what happens when the ego calls the shots. The ego hates change. It prefers someone else change. It points fingers and blames. As long as someone else is the source of your anxiety, greed or anger, you don’t have to change.
But Jesus never preached this message. Instead, he looks at you and me, directly, and says “Repent.”
When the Spirit guides your steps, you understand why.
God is always concerned with who you’re becoming.
You see, God is always concerned with who you’re becoming. He never looks at you and says, “Look at Frank. For 30 years I’ve worked on him. Now I’m done. What do you think?”
No, God looks at everyone and says the same thing, “Repent. I’m not finished yet. I want you to experience more love, more grace, more peace.”
When the Spirit leads you, repentance sounds like an invitation.
Repentance is an invitation to become more like God. Will the Spirit in you accept the invitation or the ego in you reject it?
Lent is a reminder of life’s brevity.
Death is both inevitable and temporary. Both important messages. If you miss either, you will likely miss Jesus.
Death is inevitable meaning you will die. Don’t be afraid of this reality. Your life is temporary. The present moment, every moment, is a gift.
Death is also temporary. What a paradox. Thank God for it. I’m thinking about friends stricken with cancer. I’m thinking about broken relationships, orphans, injustice and oppression. Death doesn’t have the final word. In the end, God will make all things new.
Lent reminds us death doesn’t have the final word. God will make all things new.
Lent strikes at the root of complacency.
Lent literally means “springtime.” It’s a time for preparation and hopeful expectation waiting. Lent demands that you wake up and stop living on autopilot. You have a purpose. God is redeeming all of creation, and he asks you to join the movement. Stop living for yourself. Much is at stake. There’s no time for hamster wheels and complacency.
Lent says any attempt to increase begins with decrease.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” No sentence describes John the Baptist more fully. John wasn’t a pioneer of humility and selflessness, though. He merely modeled the man to whom his words refer, Jesus.
At its core, Lent is about decrease. It’s a declaration against more, a rallying cry against excess. And in a culture whose engine runs on success and progress, I’m not sure any message is more important.
I’ve often heard people refer to sins of commission and omission. But the pursuit of success, image and accomplishments breeds a third group: sins of addition.
Sin of addition tell you trinkets and niceties are basic needs, constantly luring you with fantasies about how great your life would be if you had this or that. Sins of addition tell you enough is never enough. More is better. Always. And somehow you need more.
Lent takes us back to the wilderness where Jesus goes with nothing except his connection with the Father and emerges with a message that transforms the world.
The messages of Lent are both sobering and humbling. They’re also transformative. No message is more life-altering than the gospel. This Easter people around the world will find Hope for the first time. But the Easter message isn’t just for those who don’t know Jesus. It’s for you and me as well.
God isn’t done with us. He’s ready to birth something new. May we prepare accordingly.
Grace and peace, friends.