This week marks the halfway point in our journey through Lent. How is your journey going? Have you caved in on sweets yet? Surrendered to an urge to abandon your convictions that now seem like they were made so long ago (as in three weeks ago)?
I certainly have. I have been sorely tempted more than once to stuff one of my mom’s homemade cupcakes in my mouth in one fell swoop without feeling any remorse whatsoever about the decision.
What was the big deal about Lent anyway? And why in the world did I promise to forgo all of these delicious sweets?!
If you are in need of some Lenten Light to refresh and remind you of why you decided to take this journey in the first place, take heart from these words from one of my favorite authors and sojourner, Leanne Payne (it is a long quote, but well worth the read):
“Our journey in time is for the special ordering of our lives and passions. The church wisely has set aside a special time-within-time, the Lenten Season, for us to stop and look at our lives in view of eternity and to check our spiritual temperatures for any worldly virus our souls may have caught. It is not accidental that this period precedes Easter and prepares us for the Feasts of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that follow:
The grace of abstinence has shone forth,
banishing the darkness of demons.
The power of the Fast disciplines our minds.
Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.
As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, Lent stands as the great reminder that: ‘We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country.’
To forget God is the cause of all sins. To be unmindful of Zion is the source of all sorrows. To settle down in this fallen world, which is not God’s good creation but rather the Babylon which the wicked have made, is death to the soul.
Christians await the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,’ which is the true homeland of all human beings (Revelation 21:2)….They already live in it to the measure that they have discovered their authentic humanity made in God’s image and likeness in Christ.’
There is a dangerous forgetfulness on our part that this world is not our true and final home. This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that our educational systems, drawing their theories from materialist philosophy, have claimed heaven to be off-limits and have taught us to look within ourselves and to this earth for the ultimate good. As C.S. Lewis points out, this progressive subjectivization has resulted in an ‘evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years….Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.’
I think this explains why we have such difficulty in understanding and celebrating Lent in beneficial ways. We are no longer sure deep down that we are exiles, that this is not the promised home. Therefore, we’ve accommodated ourselves to Babylon and then are overwhelmed at the sickness, fear, hatred, and violence we see here. It is a strange fact that we Christians continue to be unduly shocked and even overcome by the sight and the extent of the evil we discover in the world – as if we didn’t know it to be a fallen one.
Lent is to remind us that it is all too easy to settle in here, to warn us that perhaps a ‘crippling worldliness’ has indeed overtaken us.
‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving, heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ Hebrews 3:12-13
This is what the Lenten Scripture readings and teachings are meant to correct in us. They would teach us how we can live in the midst of Babylon and not be destroyed by it, even as Christ prayed: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:15-16
The journey through life then, if made successfully, requires that we order our inner and outer lives. We do this through prayer, and keeping an effective listening prayer journal; those are the best means I can recommend. For those who have difficulty ordering all that an effective vocation has brought into their orbit, or for those who have grown dangerously passive, slothful spiritually and mentally, you may want to read – on your knees – Richard J. Foster’s books Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicty, or Godon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. It is essential that we order our lives and our ‘loves’ this side of glory – in time.
We are often said to be creatures of time, and that we are. But time too is a creature. It is created. It will not always be. This is, for me at least, an overwhelming concept to grapple with and keep before my eyes; it is one I cannot really ‘think’ of or fully grasp. But the truth of the matter is, God is outside of time, and not subject to it. Somedy we too will no longer be subject to time. Meanwhile in our pilgrimage, it is important to see time as gift, as treasure not to be squandered.”
Leanne Payne, “Restoring the Christian Hope of Heaven and Grace,” Restoring the Christian Soul
Leanne’s quote is a lot to process; but I walk away with two main things:
#1. Lent helps to “bring the cure to our crippling worldliness.” It is the antidote to the worldly virus that has infected our souls and helps us to remember this world is not our home. It also ushers in reminders of the Hope of Heaven, our true home.
#2. Lent helps us to order our gift of time rightly. We forget that time is a gift from God, a created thing that will not last forever. Part of our job as Christians is to order our time, to subject it to the rule and reign of Christ and use it to usher in the rule of His Kingdom, first in our own private lives and then in the differing spheres where He has placed us.
So this week and in the remaining weeks to come, if you are tempted to cram that cupcake down your throat…stop. Remember that in remembering Lent, you are doing a good thing. You are forcing your heart and mind to forgo the “sweetness” of the world for the sanctity of Heaven. And you are rightly ordering your time. You are pausing for a season each year to force your heart to yield to the Lordship of Christ, to remember the cross, remember His suffering, and remember your journey towards your true Home.
So don’t give up or give in halfway through. Keep on fasting. Keep on forgoing. For within the fast lies the freedom to turn our hearts towards a Great God and greater things.
My husband sent me a link to a short video this week called “Sweet Lorraine.” I don’t want to ruin the story line for you, so take a minute to watch, and then get back to me. Here is the link:
If you needed a kleenex (or two), you were not alone. Like Fred, I am not much of a singer or melody maker, especially when it comes to the tune of life. Lately, it seems, I’ve been more prone to squawking my way through my days instead of singing sweetly. I’ve been grumpy lately, disgruntled, short with my girls, and a bit down on life. Days have seemed long and dreary rather than airy and light. Which is unusual for me this time of year when everything is “springing” up around me. So that’s what got me about Fred’s story. It wasn’t so much his song or the melody he created, it was the studio and musicians who came in and brought his lyrics to life.
I know someone like that. He listens to my lyrics and the melody I am trying desperately (if altogether unsuccessfully) to sing, and takes it out of my imperfect hands and gives it…life. He takes my squawking and makes it singing.
The first person like that is my husband. More often than not, he takes the time to see beyond my outer, imperfect melody, and dubs over my mistakes with steadfast love. And lots of patience.
And in doing so, he has pointed me towards Someone who is perfect. No matter how imperfect my melody and my efforts here, He promises to one day make all things new. Give beauty for ashes. And add His professionalism, His perfectionism, to my imperfect praise.
I spend so much of my life worrying about not finishing well. Closing out the journey of life with a “Not so well done, half-hearted and unfaithful servant.” But what if the heart of Jesus is much more like Green Shoe Studio than my own faithfulness heart? What if King Jesus’ heart is to hear the longing behind my lyrics and to make it sweet? To dub the perfection of His voice over my imperfect one?
Thank you, Jason, for pointing me to the faithfulness of Jesus. Hopefully, one day, you can write a song about me called “Sweet Susannah,” although at the rate I am going, “Farewell, Susannah, I
Survived” may be more appropriate!
But thank you, most of all, King Jesus, for loving me despite myself. For taking my sour and making it sweet. For promising to look past the imperfections of my heart and dub it over with the faithfulness of Yours. I look so forward to the day when I can see You with my own eyes, hear Your Voice with my own ears, and listen to the melody You have created with my life.
Lent began yesterday. 40 days of fasting. 40 days of trial. 40 days of leanness for the body in exchange for fatness of soul.
What did you decide to do for Lent? Yes, you. The one sitting behind the computer screen. Because we don’t know how many more days we have on this earth to prepare for the great and coming day of the Lord; but we know we have this day. This Lent. This season of 40.
Which brings me to the 300. My small group has been studying the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Gideon blew his trumpet to gather soldiers to fight against Israel’s enemy, the Midianites. And 32,000 men responded and said they would take up their weapons and fight.
But God told Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me'” (Judges 7:2).
So God whittled the mighty army down from 32,000…to 300. Yes, you read that correctly. 300. 300 soldiers to deliver Israel from approximately 130,000 Midianites. By every human estimate, those are terrible odds. And Gideon’s battle plan (see Judges 7:16-18) was a terrible plan. Unless you consider the fact that in God’s economy, less is more. Less is powerful. Less is lean. Because our less glorifies, beautifies, and magnifies God’s magnificent more.
Is there an area of life where you are lean right now? Perhaps it’s in your bank account. Or your health. Or your emotional energy or strength. I have a word for you, friend. Less is more. Especially when it comes to Lent.
The question I have for you is, “Are you ready?” Are you ready to be one of the 300? Growing up, it was Gideon who always impressed me. I instinctively thought God must have chosen him because of how mighty or devout or humble he was. Not so. When the Angel of God found him, he was hiding in the bottom of a winepress threshing wheat. He was way more of a wimp than a victor. A coward than a warrior. Which is precisely why God chose him. There is no way any of us could feasibly give Gideon the credit for winning such a mighty victory. The credit could only go to God.
But before this Spring, I had never before noticed or given any thought to the 300. But God chose them from among the 32,000 for two reasons:
#1. The Lord told Gideon, “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’ So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3).
Think about this for a moment: Out of 32,000 men, 22,000 admitted they were afraid…and turned back. If you want to do great things for God, if you want to be ready for battle and alert for war in and out of season, take two little words to heart: Fear Not. Fear paralyzes us from being used by God. Fear of the future, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of our loved ones suffering, fear of pain, fear of the past, fear of loss of control, and the list goes on and on.
How do you get rid of fear and become ready for battle? Psalm 119:165 tells us, “Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble.” A deep-seated love of the Lord and a love of His Word roots and grounds us in peace, in reality, in eternity. A deep trust and faith in His Word removes all stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way and obliterates all fears that makes us stumble. First and foremost, the 300 were men who did not fear the enemy around them because of the greatness of the One who had called them.
But the 10,000 were still too many. Israel could still take credit for the victory. So God thinned out the crowd once again:
#2: “So Gideon brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.’ Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300…'” (Judges 7:5-7)
What was different about the 300? Catch this: they were alert. Just one valley away was an army of 130,000 Midianites ready to eat the Israelites for lunch. But 9,700 apparently weren’t aware of the nearness of their enemy. Or they didn’t care. Their desire to slake their thirst outweighed their sensitivity to the enemy.
But not the 300. They scooped water with the hands, brining it up to their mouth to drink so their eyes never had to leave the horizon. Their senses were on high alert; their physical needs were in submission to the bigger picture and the greater story going on around them.
What about you? Yes, you again. Sitting there behind your screen. If your physical senses were put up in a fight against your spiritual senses, which one would win? If your physical needs and desires were forced to submit to the bigger story going on in the heavenly realm around you, would they? Would your desire to eat physical food dominate over the desire to feed your spirit with the Word of God? Would your spiritual ears stay submissive to hearing the Voice of God even if other voices were chiming in? Voices that come from often times seemingly “good” sources? Would your spiritual eyes be able to see past the angry person in front of you and into their aching heart within?
This is what Lent is for, my friends. It is to hone us into the 300. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of the 22,000 that walk away from the battle out of fear, nor do I want to be one of the remaining 9,700 that succumbs to slaking my physical thirst before remaining alert to the unseen story around me.
Go lean on sweets the next 40 days. Go slim on screen time, television time, entertainment, sports, or shopping. And go long on God. Go long on learning how to listen with your spirit, how to see with the eyes of your heart, how to taste and see that the Lord is good, how to smell the fragrance of the forgiveness of Christ instead of the stench of self, and how to use your hands to build up the Kingdom of God instead of destructively tearing down to the glory of self.
Go ahead and go lean. Be one of the 300. And take your place in a story where less is more, victory is certain, and all the glory goes to God.