Come to me, all you who are very weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11: 28-30
Lent started on Wednesday 17th February with Ash Wednesday and would continue until Saturday 3rd April, a day before Easter Sunday. Originally, Lent was kept as a pre-Easter retreat: a prolonged period of time when Christians would “tone up” spiritually. Their “spiritual aerobics” were not unlike the intensive training an athlete undergoes before an important race or the strict diet a person goes on in order to lose weight for medical or cosmetic purpose.
The reason why Christians took Lent so seriously from the days of the Early Church onwards is that Easter Day was the highlight of their year. On this day, like us, they celebrated the amazing fact that Jesus’ body was not left in the grave. He rose from dead! But on this day, they also welcomed converts to Christianity into full fellowship of the church and welcomed back people who had once believed in God but whose faith in Him had grown dim and whose love for Him had grown cold. Throughout Lent, these people would prepare for Easter by becoming familiar with the basic teaching essential to understanding of Christianity. They would be encouraged to repent of the past failures and be shown how to live life God’s way. Committed Christians did not escape the rigours of the Lenten season. They, too, took Lent seriously and used it as a time to examine their life-style, to turn their backs on the sin that so easily creeps into their lives and to re-dedicate their lives to God.
Lent means to sacrifice your most precious commodity, time: quality time for God. During Lent we should devote our time to extra prayer, extra Bible meditation, extra reflection and serious repentance. Such dedicated time to God would make a difference to the way we worship when Easter Day arrives.
LENT IS THEREFORE:
- A time for spiritual spring-cleaning; a challenge to combat evil in our lives. And Lent is a time to turn back to God. The Prophet Joel puts the invitation this way: ‘Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.’ (Joel 2:13 NIV)
- A time for new beginnings. New beginnings start with repentance. Repentance is not negative. True repentance is an active, positive attitude which effects real and deep changes. Repentance involves recognizing the wrong, and, where possible, putting it right. And when we repent, we are determining in our minds that we will live differently. John the Baptist said ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’ (Matthew 3:2). Repentance means to face up honestly to the past and turn from it… Our own repentance conjures up feelings of being sorry or guilty for something. The biblical meaning is far deeper and richer. In the New Testament usage, repentance turns us from sin, selfishness, darkness, idols, habits, bondages and demons both private and public. Jim Wallis puts it this way: ‘We turn from all that binds and oppresses us and others, from all the false worship that has controlled us. Ultimately, repentance is turning from the powers of death. These ominous forces no longer hold us in their grip; they no longer have the last word’.Repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness go hand in hand. The Apostle John writes: ‘If we confess our sins to God, He will keep His promise…He will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.’ (1 John 1:9). After we have confessed, we must move on to receive and embrace God’s forgiveness and love. To fail to do so implies that we give greater importance to our sinful self than to God’s goodness. We must learn to accept that God’s goodness is greater than our ‘badness’; that there is joy in God’s heart in extending to us the forgiving love which sets us free from past sin. So, we must refuse to nurse a sense of guilt and accept the healing God offers.
- A glorious forty-day retreat. A retreat is a time to stand back; to ask; ‘what have I been doing with my life?’ What has God been teaching me? Where have I succeeded in living life God’s way? Where have I failed? What do I need to confess to God or to change?’ Lenten retreat is a time to recognize our wanderings and to determine to go back to God. Like the young man in the story of the prodigal son, we are to make a calculated choice to come back to our Father: ‘I will get up and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son: treat me as one of your hired workers.’ (Luke 15: 20-24) :and enjoy our Father’s joyful restoration.
- A time to hope. Unending love is what God is. Lent is a time to experience that love all over again. For this reason, God ‘woos’and assures us that though we have failed Him, He will not forsake us: ‘How can I give you up?… How can I abandon you?… My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong.’ (Hosea 11:8). Now is the time to make a personal response to God invitation: ‘Return to the Lord your God and let this prayer be your offering to Him: “Forgive all our sins and accept our prayer, and we will praise you as we have promised”’(Hosea 14:2) . Because God’s love is perfect, when we return to Him, we enjoy security. He has promised that He will never abandon us nor banish us from His presence — ‘Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. See, I have branded you on the palms of my hands.’
- A time to re-focus; to turn away from the business which pre-occupies us for most of the year and concentrate on Jesus.
Lent is a wonderful time we should not miss. Let us go through the rigours of the 40 days spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayers and enjoy prolific change and growth in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay Blessed!