The Mystery of Lent
This year more than ever I have been questioning the meaning of Lent. I have always observed this season, but for some reason I have found myself pondering its meaning and desiring to dive deeper into its mystery. This year more than ever the question of “WHY LENT?” has been turning around in my head.
Why Lent? We have 40 days to enter into this season, then we get to jump into part two: Easter- the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection! So what is part one all about? As I have been mulling this over, what keeps coming to mind is simple. This season gives us an opportunity to realize the gift of God sending Jesus, His Son, into the world as man. I feel drawn to understand, appreciate, and receive more fully the life of Jesus. I have decided to pray through one of the Gospels during Lent in order to walk through Jesus’ life with Him. On a practical level I want to be reminded of the precious Gospel stories, and spiritually I want to soak them in and let them speak to me. I want to receive more fully Jesus’ life on earth and what it meant for humanity and what it means for me. My hope is that this will help me more fully appreciate His sacrificial death, and then at Easter to celebrate His victory even more triumphantly!
So why did Jesus become man? As I consider this I think of an image God gave to the prophet Ezekiel:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones…and lo, they were very dry… He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life…and you will know that I am the Lord.’ – Ez. 37
The Message translation of this passage reads:
God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Master God, only you know that.”
He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’” God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!
This story from the Old Testament shows that the error of man has always been their lack of faith in God’s promise. They didn’t believe in or rely on the fulfillment of God’s word, so they turned away from His grace, guidance, and blessing. God was revealing to Ezekiel that when we lose hope in God’s promise and turn from His provision we become like dry boneswho are spiritually dead. But God is telling him to prophecy hope, life, and blessing over these dead bones so they may come to life and know that He is LORD.
God sending Jesus as man communicates this same message. God sees that as humans we are inclined to doubt and lose faith in His promises. God cranked it up a notch from giving a prophetic word and He came Himself, in His Son Jesus, to communicate His desire for us to remain in His blessing, love, and life. This is what Jesus’ life was all about- communicating His promises for us and leading us back to the Father.
We are human- and even as Christians we experience the human tendency to go wayward. We can lose hope, faith, and expectation in the goodness of the Lord. In Lent, we have a beautiful opportunity to surrender these areas to the Lord and let Him breath new hope, new life in us. It is a time to acknowledge our tendency for self-reliance and claim our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a chance to repent as well as do works to show our hope in and dependence on God.
What are the areas that we can bring before the Lord? What are the areas of our life that we are lacking hope and expectation in His loving providence?
It is often disappointment in relationships, education, careers, future dreams, and vocation that make us fearful of having expectant faith. Wherever we experience anxiety, stress, or discontentment is right where we need to surrender and let the Lord breathe healing, hope, and expectation into our hearts.
If you are looking for practical ways to enter into Lent, I’ll share a bit of how I approach this season leading up to Easter. First of all, I have found it helpful to think about what fruit I want to get out of Lent, and then choose what will help get me there. A traditional approach to Lent would be to choose one way to grow in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
1. Prayer: Setting aside time to pray and be with God is the best way can receive His love and grace. This season is for everyone but He has particular graces He wants to share with each of us.
- Establishing a daily prayer time, lengthening your prayer time, reading a book on Lent, reading through one of the Gospels (I chose John!), or even go on retreat!
- Intercede for the area you most desire growth in the Lord (i.e. ask the Lord for help!): identity, self-esteem, belonging, relationships, courage, freedom, etc.
2. Fasting : Fasting is a great way to grow in reliance on God, pray for others, and cut out unnecessary things in our lives. It helps us feel our human weakness and turn towards God's grace. It helps us more fully understand our need for God and that everything good is a gift from Him.
- Giving up sweets, snacks, soda/alcohol, shortening sleep, makeup, social media.
- For more ideas: https://lifeteen.com/blog/what-to-give-up-25-creative-ideas-for-lent/
- It is worth noting that there are different approaches to fasting and penance in different Christian denominations.
3. Almsgiving: We are all aware how we live in an “iWorld” that normally revolves around ourselves. This is an opportunity to be extra charitable with our time, money, talents. What is one way that would challenge you to be more generous? My experience is that even if this is difficult it is actually refreshing to focus more on giving to others!
- Donating extra money to Church or other charitable organizations, volunteer work, serving family/friends (emptying dishwasher, taking out trash, laundry, etc), visiting or calling sick or elderly.
Bonus: I have recently discovered a man called Matta El-Maskeen who was an Egyptian Coptic Monk. He has many beautiful articles and videos on prayer. Here is one of my favorites videos and has to do with forgiveness which is a central Lenten theme. Enjoy! https://wn.com/matta_el-meskeen
Have a blessed Lenten journey!