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40 days of reflection: Day 1

by on March 9, 2011

For Lent this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to writing something every day.  It got me back to thinking about why people celebrate Lent in advance of Easter.

via Wikipedia:

Lent in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.

This practice is universal in most of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans.

So the purpose of Lent is ostensibly to prepare us for the celebration of the death of resurrection of Jesus Christ through “prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial”.  I’ve noticed that the sacrifice-du-jour is Facebook.  People will intentionally not look at their Facebook for 40 days.  There were a lot of messages in my network today that said, “See you in 40 days, Facebook”.  Now, I’m all for this, and I’ve even done it before.  It was a very freeing, clarifying experience.  I will say, though, that a simple closing of Facebook for 40 days is insufficient to accomplish the goals of the Lenten season.

If we are to mirror the days of Jesus in the desert, we are to go beyond the self-denial and sacrifice.  Those things are good and valid, but in the end, they will result in little more than someone who really wants to look at their News Feed.  If we look at Jesus’ temptation in the desert:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’  Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Mt. 4:1-11, NASB)

The meat (no pun intended) of this story lies not in the sacrifice or self-denial, but in Jesus’ back-and-forth with Satan.  Jesus demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures concerning exactly the things that Satan is trying to tempt Him with.  I would argue that the self-denial and sacrifice was the means to demonstrate the power of the Word of God over the temptations of the flesh.

So where does that leave us (and what am I going to do for Lent)?  I think that when we make the sacrifice of going off Facebook (or replace Facebook with anything you like: coffee, TV, red meat, etc.), we should have the true purpose of this sacrifice in mind.  In doing so, are we gaining the clarity of mind that would allow us to grow closer to God in such a way where we can grow in our knowledge and love for Him?  If not, then we are no better than the Pharisees, who would “neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” (Mt. 6:16, NASB)

If you are trying to determine what you are going to sacrifice for Lent, please be mindful of the ultimate purpose of your sacrifice.  It is not for health, it is not for personal glory, it is not so that you will spend less time staring at a screen.  It is so that you and your Heavenly Father can grow closer together as you daily spend time with Him.

That being said, I’m going to make the attempt to write something every day for the next 40 days (and maybe beyond?).  If I had to name it, I’d say that I’m sacrificing a few minutes of my day and some of my brainpower in order to better understand my God, who He is, and what He desires of me.

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From → Lent

One Comment
  1. tiffany permalink

    Thanks for this! I had just tried to do some research about the purpose and background of Lent so this helped a lot :).

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