Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Today marks the first day of Lent. If you're anything like me, you probably have never paid much attention to this season. You may know the traditional practices. You may recognize your church has an additional service once a week (generally on Wednesdays). But do you really take the time to embrace what this season means? I never have before. I've heard of some of my Catholic friends abstaining from meat on Fridays. I've known some of my friends whom have given something up for the 40 days (46 when you add in Sundays) of Lent. But what's the point and purpose of it?
Lent is a season for contemplation, for repentance, for prayer, for spiritual discipline. It is a time when we reflect on Jesus - on his suffering and sacrifice for us. Quite often, this time of repentance and spiritual discipline takes the role of giving up something, and using the time which would have been spent on that activity in quiet prayer and contemplation. Most people tend to follow the "hey look! I gave up this for Lent!" And, that's as far as it goes. But you must take that a step further. In fact, you really don't even have to give something up (in my opinion, and from what I understand) - but you do need to do the second part for it to have any meaning. You must take time for prayer, devotion, contemplation, or some sort of service towards God. Maybe this is taking 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. Or just to pray. Something that will help move you closer to God and will help you recognize and understand and accept the wonderful gift we were given through the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. This gift was given without our deserving it. It was given to us out of the grace and love of our Lord.
We are all broken. And God understood this, and still understands this. He doesn't want us to wait to come to him until we are fixed (something which has taken me a long time to understand and accept). I recently read a very good short article which I highly recommend everyone takes the time to read. "From the Journal" basically tells us that God doesn't want us to wait until we're perfect, or until we have a perfect understanding of Him. He wants us to come to him now. Lent is the time for this.... It is the time for repentance, for self-examination and reflection.
So what can we give up during the Lent season to help bring us closer to God? This can be anything. Some fast, giving up a meal each day and spending that time in prayer instead. Others prefer to give up candy, soda, cigarettes, etc to help purify their bodies. For some, it is the act of giving up television at least one day a week and using this time to read scripture, or to go outside and enjoy God's creation.
There are many other ideas out there. Simply think of something you do - something which pulls your time away from God, or keeps you from living a healthy lifestyle of which God has intended - and cut that out of your life for just a day a week, or every day of Lent. Fill that time with activities which will bring you closer to God - prayer, scripture, church, service, Bible study, or simple quiet contemplation.
Want to know where to start with Scripture reading? The book of Matthew seems to be a good place to start. Or, read a Psalm a day. I like the Psalms - they make good prayers when you're unable to come up with one on your own. On that note... let us use Psalm 51 as a prayer for this night:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.