By Pastor David M. Choi
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! -Psalm 139:23-24
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which officially launches us into the Lenten season. After Advent, Lent is the next major season of the Christian calendar, and is the forty days leading up to Good Friday (when Jesus died on the cross) and Easter Sunday (when Jesus rose again from the grave). And during this time, Christians are invited to do three things: reflect, fast, and give.
Lent as Reflection
As we approach Good Friday, we are forced to look at the ugly reality of sin in our own lives, since it was because of our sin that Christ died on the cross. “Here, our individual and corporate brokenness,” as Chuck Colson writes, “is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection.”
In other words, if we’re going to take the cross of grace seriously, then we need to begin by taking the ugliness of our own sin seriously. With everything going on in our busy lives, we easily forget just how sinful and messed up we really are. Lent, however, disrupts our busyness, and makes us reflect on how we’ve gone astray. The goal, of course, is not merely getting us to acknowledge our own brokenness; rather, it’s getting us to see once more our utter need of divine grace. In this, we are reminded of why Good Friday is indeed Good.
Lent as Fasting
Keeping with tradition, Christians usually fast during the Lenten season. Fasting is giving up, or cutting out, anything in your life that detracts you from God. So, ask yourself, “What distracts me from the Lord? What keeps me from giving Him the sort of time, love, energy, and attention He truly deserves?” Maybe it’s technology, video games, overwork, certain foods or drinks, or even an unhealthy relationship. Whatever it is, commit to fasting so that you can spend more time with God and deepen your relationship with Christ.
Here’s the caveat. Fasting doesn’t make you more spiritual than someone else who isn’t fasting, nor does God favor you more because of it. You are saved by grace alone, by faith alone. Moreover, fasting should not be turned into a sadistic game or competition. Often Christians ask other Christians (especially within youth groups) what they are giving up for Lent because they want to see who can go the longest without eating potato chips or going on instagram. That’s so far from the point, and indeed God will not accept that kind of sacrifice. (Having said that, though, you may ask people if your intention is to pray for them and to keep them accountable to their fasting commitments.)
In short, fasting is about giving up the trivial things you think your life is dependent upon, to be reminded again that there is only One thing your life is truly dependent upon.
Lent as Giving
Because Lent is about deepening our relationship with God, it’s also about deepening our relationships with our neighbors, that is, by blessing them. (If you don’t know who your neighbor is go and read Luke 10:25-37.)
The Spirit leads us to bless others by way of personal reflection and fasting observance. For instance, after having reflected on one’s sin, repentance invites God to pour His grace into one’s life. As God does this, God softens one’s heart and opens one’s eyes to see the reality of sin as it manifests itself in the spiritual, social, and economic struggles of those around us. In seeing this reality of sin, God moves us to prayer, and He moves us to join in solidarity with those who are suffering. Here we see how reflection, fasting, and giving are related to one another.
Thus, carving out time for God also means carving out time for others who we are called to minister to – for we cannot love God rightly without loving our neighbors rightly! Indeed, right next to you there are people who are suffering, people you would’ve otherwise overlooked perhaps because your eyes are constantly glued to a computer screen. So, during Lent, let God honor your fasting and consecrate your devotion by allowing Him to use you to bless others, whether it be through spending time with them, praying for them, or meeting their material needs.
When God finds us, He finds us stewing in the filth of our sins. But He looks on us with mercy, kindness, and love anyway. This Lent dwell on these things. Mourn in darkness for the sorrow of sin. And then take heart. For the joy of Easter morning is coming soon quickly.