(originally posted on jrkibbymusic.com 03/04/2017)
The Lenten season is here, and with Ash Wednesday behind us, we look forward to Good Friday. Those of us who were crazy enough to give up sweets, soda, coffee (say it ain’t so!), Netflix, or social media, my prayers are with you (stay positive! it’s almost over). And of course, who can forget meatless Fridays? That’s right! The one day of the week where fish counts as a vegetable, or is it a fruit? Maybe dairy? Oh, I know, it’s a grain! Wait, that doesn’t make sense… (scratches head)… Oh well! Some Lenten traditions are a bit peculiar, but the season itself is a great opportunity for us to reflect and refocus our lives, mainly our spiritual lives.
Lent is a time of penitence and preparation, remembering when Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days and nights before He began His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Of course, Jesus had no reason to be penitent, He never did anything wrong. We, on the other hand, have done plenty of bad things which we need to deal with before God can truly use us. Jesus also didn’t need to prepare for ministry, for He was the very Word of God come down from heaven (John 1:14-15). But He chose to fast and pray in the wilderness, to feel weakness and longing, to be tempted and endure through it. He did it to show His total devotion to the Father, and as an example of the lengths we must be willing to go if we hope to acquire a deeper devotion to God.
Now I’m not suggesting we all head out and wander around the wilderness ourselves. Forty years of wandering didn’t really help the Israelites and I doubt it would help us either. Devotion to God is not simply an act of the body, but also the mind and the will. This is why I believe fasting should always be accompanied by praying. How can one “hunger and thirst for righteouness” if they’re not seeking it through prayer and spending time in God’s word? And if Jesus is our example, then we should understand that His devotion to the Father didn’t end when He left the wilderness and headed back to civilization. But rather,
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:”Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’” -(Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV)
And this is what was written in the scroll,
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” -(Luke 4:16-21 NIV)
For many (and I find myself in this crowd more than I would like to), Lent begins with great intentions, fosters honest confessions, and produces new determinations. We feel the weight of our sin and desire to live lives worthy of the One who has called us. So we seek out ways to do just that, but I sometimes wonder if the things we do during Lent are done to make up for what Christ had to endure, to make up for all the bad things we’ve done. If I’m honest with myself, even though I know better, the thought of being able to repay God for what I’ve done, and for what I’ve caused to be done to His Son, has crossed my mind more than once when considering what I’m doing during the Lenten season.
The danger of religion is that it can cause us to be self-concious or self-focused. What we give up or take up becomes more about ourselves and less about God. Fasting becomes a means to flex our spiritual muscle, to prove to ourselves we can be better. God is no one’s fool though, He can see through our masks.
“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” -(Isaiah 58:2-7 NIV emphasis mine)
I highlighted that part in verse 6 because I found it interesting how similar that was to the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read at the beginning of His ministry. Jesus’ fasting continued on after His time in the wilderness because the fast God requires is not about depriving our bodies of food, but sharing the bread that we’ve been given instead of keeping it for ourselves. Jesus was the bread that came down from heaven, and He gave up His life for the life of the world (John 6:51), and if we are to follow His example then we must be willing to do the same.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” -(Mark 8:34-38 NIV)
Father, You sent Your beloved Son to earth to be our Savior, and to give us an example of what it means to be devoted to You. Please forgive our wandering, and rescue us from religious traditions which have fostered lackluster faith. Breathe Your fire into us and help us to do Your will. All for Your glory. In Jesus Name. Amen.