Over the next 40 days I have challenged myself to write a short reflection for Lent. As much as these are designed to help others, I’m hopeful that I will reap some benefit from this discipline too.
Today, we’re preparing ourselves for Lent which starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday.
The Collect for the Sunday before Lent is a really helpful prayer as we think about what we can gain from Lent this year:
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The whole purpose of Lent is for us to grow in our faith as Christians. It’s not about self-discipline, or will-power, although it might include them. It’s not about learning or unlearning habits (though it’s quite useful for that. Some use it for a spiritual (or even physical) detox – from smart-devices, unhealthy eating or smoking. All that is good. But ultimately, Lent is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us what he’s praying for: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (NIV) That’s what God wants for us: to know him better.
Lent is not in the Bible, but it is a helpful tradition, as long as it doesn’t become something else to feel guilty about if we fail or fills us with pride at the expense of a deepening trust in God.
For me, Lent is about clearing the ground, getting stuff out of the way so I can see things properly. In a messy garden, before you can plant new things, you need to clear the ground, get rid of the weeds; then you can see more clearly what you’ve got to work with.
I don’t think it’s any accident that Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days. The wilderness is desolate, there’s nothing there. No distractions, nothing to get in the way of his time with God. And he filled that time with his Father. When there’s not much in front of you, you can see more clearly what’s there.
The Collect prays ‘give us grace to perceive his glory.‘
What Christ achieved on the cross, and how it relates to us, is not something we can ‘see’ without grace, God opening our eyes. And sometimes (quite a lot of the time, if I’m honest) we can be so overwhelmed by all the stuff of our lives – all the things that are coming in at us – that we can’t see straight. Perceive here means more than a glimpse, a quick look. It means to see something clearly and understand it.
So, use Lent wisely. Pick up a good Christian book, turn off the TV, put down that phone. When we intend to take up one thing that will grow us spiritually, so we can begin to see more of Jesus in our lives, the only way that will happen is if we create space somewhere else.
We can’t do it by ourselves, we need God to enable us. I believe that God wants those who have put their trust in his Son to grow in their relationship with him, to know him more deeply, to perceive Christ and his glory more clearly. Make this your prayer for yourself this Lent.
Questions for reflection: What are your reasons for giving up something for Lent? What might you need to do to enable you to build your relationship with God over Lent?
Tip for Lent: Rather than cutting back on something in Lent, have you thought about taking up something, like reading a good Christian book, or setting aside time to read the Bible and pray? If you are going to do this, perhaps link this to what you might give up. Be intentional, set aside a time when you’re going to do it. Vague intentions never end up anywhere. Decide what you’re going to not do so that you can commit to it (E.g. I’m going to read the Bible and pray for 10 minutes this morning/evening, and read the newspaper/watch TV after that. Write it down or say it out loud each morning to help you remember).