Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Millions of faithful believers around the world are observing this 40-day period of the Christian faith by “giving something up” – luxuries like meat, sugar, or social media. Maybe your New Years Resolution has faded and you want to revive it during Lent. Or maybe you’ve sensed this is a time of change in your life. You are ready for a new beginning, a season when your spirit can be renewed. Could Lent be your opportunity?
Before you jump into the season – consider asking yourself these three questions. They are designed to prepare you for the journey ahead and give it the spiritual focus it will require. If you find yourself stuck along the way, you can always return to these questions.
Question 1: What is Jesus Christ’s invitation to me right now?
This may surprise you, but people who get the most out of their Lenten practice don’t begin with the question of “what should I give up?” Asking that question misses the point of the Lenten season. They begin with this question: “what is Christ’s invitation to me right now?” How does he want to renovate my character, my marriage, my work, my life? If you can answer that question, Lent will take on a deeper meaning for you.
When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, you find him extending invitations to people. He invited a wealthy and powerful young man to sell his possessions and follow him. He invited the Samaritan town harlot to come clean on her past and be filled with God’s living water. And he invited one of his headstrong, impulsive disciples (Peter) to become a trustworthy, humble leader.
Jesus Christ has an invitation for you this Lent. Maybe he’s asking you to deal with the resentment that’s buried alive inside you – and give you the power to forgive and heal. Maybe he’s challenging you to become a person of courage, who is no longer cowed by the opinions of other people. For many of us, Jesus is inviting us to become a master of our appetites, whether we are driven by food, alcohol or sex.
Would you like to hear his invitation to you? Take a few minutes in solitude and an open Bible. You can start with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, or read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Write down the ideas that come to your mind, and then share them with your pastor, spouse or a Christian friend you trust. You can ask them to pray with you to narrow it down to one specific area.
Question 2: Do I want this invitation?
All of us have a will, the ability to say yes or no. What part of you agrees with Jesus and says “yes” to his invitation to take on his character and be free of vice? Do you find his vision for life to be thrilling, ennobling, and good? Express that intention to God, maybe in the form of a written prayer.
Yet if you’re like me, there’s also a part of you that says no. We all have an “Inner Rebel” who resists Jesus’ invitation to life change. You and I have our own way of making life work, staying in control and feeling good. Personally, I don’t like the grouchy, low-energy version of myself that I experience when I fast from food. Becoming like Christ takes me through a physical and spiritual valley. It’s unpleasant. How about you? We have habits and fears that won’t go easy. What part of you would sabotage the Lenten journey?
Write that down also, or share it with a friend. The more self-reflective and honest you can be about your inner rebel that resists His work, the less powerful will that inner rebel be.
Question 3: What Lenten disciplines am I ready to take on this year?
The classic Lenten disciplines are fasting, prayer and almsgiving (a fancy word for giving away your extra money). These are historic, time-tested means to experience the presence of Jesus Christ. When woven together for an extended period of time, it makes space in our life for His grace to change us.
Fasting is a willing abstention from eating food, and some drinks, to make space in our souls to feast on Jesus. For starters, this might involve cutting out desserts and alcohol for Lent. You can extend this by skipping a meal or a day of meals once a week during Lent.
Prayer is participating in the life of God, a two-way conversation. This can start with the simple, ancient phrase known as the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” From there, you can listen to him, share your burdens, and ask for his love and power to fill your life.
Almsgiving is extending mercy and love to your neighbor through a financial gift. You can start by observing needs around you and then applying your time and money to meet those needs.
Are you ready to take on this gentle harness and walk with Jesus for 40 days? This is what Eugene Peterson called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” As we put one foot in front of the other, the light of Easter gets brighter with each step.