On Ash Wednesday, March 6, we begin the season of Lent. We will gather for worship and Holy Communion during the Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30 p.m. During the season of Lent, we go on an inner journey of self-examination, repentance, and renewal. We recall the journey of Jesus to the cross and the crucifixion on Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died, and we search for those parts of our lives that need to die also, so that new life can enter in. Is there some selfish desire in me that needs to die so that I can live more fully the life of love that Christ has promised to place within me?
Throughout the years, Lent has become associated with fasting and denial. Even today many people talk about giving up something during Lent. Some stop eating meat. Some give up coffee. For others it's chocolate or desserts. And that's all well and good, but the real intent of Lent is that should we look within. We should change our hearts and not our diets.
That's what Jesus means when he talks about fasting in Matthew 6. “When you fast,” he said, “don't look somber as the hypocrites do for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. For I tell you, they have already received their reward.” God doesn't want an outward display from us. God doesn't want us to change our eating habits. God wants us to change our hearts. God wants a change within. The Old Testament prophet Joel puts it well when he says, "‘Even now,' says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.' Rend your heart and not your garments."
The first task of Lent is not fasting or alms giving. It's not giving up sweets or going off fatty foods. It is repentance – repentance that brings us before the Lord with penitent, contrite hearts. Lent tells us to repent of our sinfulness; to look within and purify our hearts. Turn back, change directions, make a new start from our old life and do so without making a show of it.
As we begin this season of Lent, we are invited to come before the Lord our God with open hearts and make a new start within. Rev. Craig Gates, of Jackson, MS, offers the following alternative suggestions for giving things up:
• GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.
• GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
• GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
• GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
• GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins.”
• GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.
• GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift, your time!
• GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.
• GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ.
This is a very challenging list of things to give up, but if we gave up these things for Lent, then we would truly begin to change our hearts and live a life that is Christ like.
Blessings and Peace,