Apr 06 2017
Every year, millions of Christians prepare for Easter by observing Lent. I’m not one of those people. And it may not be for the reason you think.
It’s not because I have any objections to Lent. This isn’t a case of a Baptist shaking his fist at anything that sounds even remotely “Catholic.” I’m not anti-Lent, nor am I anti-people-who-celebrate-Lent (anti-Lenters?).
And it’s not because it’s too hard and I’m too lazy. Okay, okay: it’s not only because it’s too hard and I’m too lazy (seriously, I haven’t cleaned out my closet yet).
The reason I don’t observe Lent is because I honestly have no idea how to make it a story about Jesus instead of a story about me. Every year I think about all the things that I could give up for Lent, but none of them seem satisfactory. I could give up TV. I could give up Xbox. I could give up coffee (although my mom tried that once, and I don’t think I’m strong enough to deal with the withdrawal symptoms like she did).
But if the purpose of Lent is to replicate Jesus’ sacrifice and self-denial during his 40 days of wilderness temptation, then I honestly can’t think of anything that I could do that would even remotely compare. Nothing that I could give up would cause me to suffer.
I would think I was suffering, but not being able to binge-watch old seasons of 24 on Netflix wouldn’t actually be suffering. And then I’d start to think about how noble it was of me to give up that thing, and I’d start to get all self-congratulatory, and before you know it this would be a story about how awesome I am instead of a story about how awesome Jesus is.
The truth is that I don’t trust myself not to turn Lent into an empty ritual. And that would be completely opposite to my call as a disciple.
Jesus isn’t glorified by me pretending to be hard-done-by because I’ve been deprived of a privilege that I have as a product of my cultural moment. And it’s not because he couldn’t be. It’s because I wouldn’t do it with the right attitude and motivation.
Like every other aspect of Christian discipleship, the state of my heart matters more than the work of my hands. And if my heart isn’t where it needs to be—if I can’t honestly make the connection between my self-denial and Jesus’ self-denial—then I would do more damage by observing Lent than I would by sitting it out.
Some of you reading this do observe Lent, and you do it for the right reasons (because you’re a better person than me). And I commend you for doing something that I haven’t yet figured out how to do.
But whether the discussion is about Lent, or going to church on Sunday, or building relationships with others, or serving in ministry, or anything else we do in the name of Christian discipleship, the bottom line is the same: heart first, hands second.
As we move into Easter, I’d invite you to take a moment to allow the Holy Spirit to press into the question of your heart. If you’re a Christian, then your heart has been transformed. You may struggle to turn that transformation into action, but that doesn’t change the facts. You’ve been redeemed. Jesus has bought your pardon through his shed blood on the cross. He took your sin on his shoulders. He paid your penalty. And he rose again to conquer death forever.
So ask the Holy Spirit to help you figure out how to act out that transformation. Start small. Don’t start with 40 days of Lent: start with one decision and go from there. And watch what God does with one act of willing obedience.
And if you want to know more about Jesus’ 40 days of temptation, come out to Parkland this Sunday because that’s what we’ll be looking at. I hope to see you there.