Ash Wednesday was a few days ago. In the days leading up to it, my feed was full of posts, articles and photos about what people were giving up for Lent. The ideas and suggestions ranged from tongue-in-cheek to serious reflections.
To be honest, I’m not an observer of Lent. I’ve read about the practice and its impact throughout church history. The way Lent has been observed over the last 2,000 years has changed. And it continues to change based on denomination, and even personal preference. It’s purpose, however, has not.
Lent is a time to examine ourselves, to bear the fruit of repentance, and to sacrifice through self-denial. I appreciate the solemnity and spirit behind the 40 day fast. It’s valuable to prepare our hearts to remember and reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus.
However, even as a non-observer of Lent, I believe there are lessons and spiritual disciplines that can be carried out of the season into the life of disciples.
Paul tells the Corinthian church that they should test themselves to see if they are in the faith – asking them whether they know or not that Jesus Christ is in them. It’s an important word from Paul, as it should be something that we do on a regular basis. He tells this same church previously to examine themselves before they approach the communion table, so that they do not eat and drink of the table unto judgement.
These are heavy words from Paul. But what does it mean to examine ourselves? It is not something we can do without the Holy Spirit or the Word of God. Hebrews tells us that the Word is a double-edged sword that discerns the thoughts and intents of our hearts. Self-examination means allowing the Holy Spirit to expose where we are not walking as we should through the Bible. That we would welcome his conviction and call to repentance and cleansing.
Denial of self can be a very prideful thing. Done in the flesh, we can keep a tally of the things we’ve given up for Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t ask us for denial of things, but of our whole selves; our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Scripture shows us how this is to be done through Jesus. His entire life was made up of self-sacrifice and obedience to the Father through death on a cross. However, His denial of self was done out of love for the Father and to do His will and purpose. As we deny ourselves, self-examination should play a huge part in discerning our motives for what we’re giving up. The only denial of self that is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord is done for His sake, out of love for the Triune God. And it’s our self-denial for the Lord, out of love for Him that will gain us our soul.
Love the Lord Your God
The ultimate purpose of examination, of self-denial is to produce repentance and cleansing. But what is our motivation? What are any of our religious practices if they are not done out of an all-consuming love for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Jesus tells us in Mark 12 that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Out of this love should flow our motivation for everything.
This season is about the solemnity and sacrifice of our Lord. And it is right and good that we observe these things in our everyday lives, being living witnesses of the power of Jesus and His resurrection in us.
But these principles, these commands of Jesus in Scripture cannot only be a part of a season of the year. They are life requirements for following the Lord. And if the Lenten season teaches us anything, it should show us that our brokenness of spirit and the contriteness of our hearts are sacrifices the Lord does not despise, no matter what the date on the calendar.