On Sunday Ron and I are leaving on an extended vacation and so here it is, the end of January and I’ve already been thinking about and planning for Lent. But it’s really not that far away, Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day so we’re only talking about a couple of weeks. But as I was working on the February and March plans I began to feel anticipation at revisiting this centuries old church custom. Last year, because we were journaling the Attributes of God, I didn’t observe Lent the way I usually do, and I missed it.
In my planning I kept asking myself, “What is a good lead in to 40 days of verses on Repentance to prepare for Easter? How do you get ready to take a good hard look at the sin in your life without feeling hopeless and full of despair?” I wanted something comforting and soothing, like soup on a cold winter day. I was trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, because the answer was right there, staring me in the face.
From my first journal plan written in February of 2017 I have chosen God’s love for the month of February. As I searched for my lead in topic, it came to me that love was the answer. Before taking a deep dive into repentance I need to be assured of God’s love for me. I need to know that the One I’m confessing to loves me and has my best interest at heart always. I need the reminder that I’m a daughter before the discipline. So for the next 14 days drink deeply from the fount of His love. Bask in your chosen-ness and the forgiveness that’s been extended to you. Be grateful that His mercies are new every morning. The truth is, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). And one of the ways we show our love to Him is by daily killing the sin that still lives within us. Lent helps us do that.
The following is the introduction to past Lenten journal plans, I’m including it because I think it helps us think rightly about this often misunderstood season. Especially for those of us who did not grow up practicing any kind of Lent observance. I pray this season blesses you in ways you never imagined.
Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Growing up Protestant I rarely considered Lent, other than to hear my Catholic friends bemoaning all of the fish they had to eat and the chocolate they were giving up. I considered myself lucky to be able to skip this dusty old church discipline. What I didn’t realize was that I was missing out on a particularly rich practice that would make Easter an even more spectacular day than I had ever known it could be.
It started more than 20 years ago in the church of my childhood. We had just moved back to Michigan and were attending the church I had grown up in, a traditional Reformed church. The whole thing happened so casually it’s really remarkable how big an impact it had on me. But isn’t that just the way God works. It seemed random to me but to Him it was all part of HIs plan for me, it was a gift he’d held until that moment. And what was this remarkable gift? A thin little paperback pamphlet of Lenten readings by Henri Nouwen. They were just sitting there for the taking and so I grabbed one and tucked it into my bible once I got home. Mind you at this point in my life I wasn’t even a regular bible reader.
This really was a twofold gift; first, I was introduced to the practice of Lenten observance and second, I was introduced to Henri Nouwen, a man whose writing continues to be an integral part of my faith walk to this day.
As with all things of God, however, where we start is not where we are meant to stay and that has definitely been the case with my observance of this Holy season. Lent is a threefold discipline that includes forms of fasting, prayer, and service or charity. How we choose to observe this season, or even if we choose not to, is entirely up to us. But let me say, that to skip the observance of Lent is to leave a great gift unopened.
Lent is also a journey, a journey to the cross but ultimately to Resurrection Sunday. On Easter we celebrate the risen King Jesus and his defeat of sin and death on the cross. Because of what transpired between Good Friday and Easter Sunday we are forever granted access to God the Father. I love how Paul Tripp puts it, “because of Jesus I never have to see the back of God the Father walking away from me in disappointment or rejection.” Because of Jesus I am always met with open, loving arms ready to receive me regardless of my current condition. But a major aspect of those open, loving arms is repentance. I’m never rejected but that does not mean that I can ignore my sin or continue in it unchecked. And that’s another beautiful aspect of Lent, these 40 days are a preparation of our hearts for the joy of Easter morning. For 40 days I do some hard work on my sin, I scour the house for any crumbs of unconfessed sin and I take them to my loving Father in prayer. I allow the Holy Spirit unfettered access to my life, to the depths of my heart and I confess whatever is revealed. I do this with the word of God as my guide and fasting as a reminder of the sacrifice he made for me. And it doesn’t stop there, I also practice practical forms of service and charity while denying myself.
Maybe it all sounds like too much, maybe it leaves you feeling like you’re trapped in another set of legalistic rules and that’s exactly what Jesus came to free you from, so you say; “ No way, this is not for me.” I understand, Jesus did come to set us free from legalistic rules, but that’s not what Lent is. I’m inviting you to is a feast of God’s goodness, not a banquet of rules. Maybe you won’t choose to fast from anything but could you give some focused time in the word, could you invite the Holy Spirit to search your heart? Maybe the idea of denying yourself something brings up negative memories for you, could you look at picking up a new habit of prayer or bible reading for 40 days instead? If Lenten observance has negative connotations for you, perhaps you could just pray for God to give you new eyes to see, or a heart to forgive whatever left such a bad taste in your mouth. I pray you find healing if you need it.
From today through March 24 we will be journaling verses on Repentance as a way of preparing for Holy Week and Easter. For Holy Week we will be reading larger chunks of scripture that will take us through the entire Easter story. My hope is that you will take some time during Holy Week to meditate on the magnitude of the Easter story. Perhaps employing some other means of engaging with the Word during that week. The verses you choose to journal for Holy Week are entirely up to you. My prayer is that this will not be “more” added to your plate but “better.”
For those of you who join me in this journey, I pray that you are blessed and that Easter is more meaningful for you because of these practices. And as always, if you want to let me know what you think, please do.