What Good Is Lent?
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit…You my brothers were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. Galatians 5:24-25, 13
There have been many life lessons learned from athletic endeavors. One does not have to have great athletic skills to discover this truth. You only have to be human. “Athletic endeavors need only be walking; but walking with regularity and discipline over a period of time. One of my seminary professors had a serious heart attack in his 60’s. He lived about five miles from the seminary campus. He began to walk faithfully to and from his office and classroom every day, sunshine or rain, snow or cold, month in and month out. People driving along the road who did not even know him at first would stop to try to give him a ride, especially in foul weather, which he always kindly refused. He lived into his 90’s, taught many more seminary students, and set an example for myriad other fellow Christians. Knowing him, I perceived his time walking was not wasted thinking about nothing. Valuable time with the Lord was experienced as he walked, in prayer, thought, and meditation, which very probably would not have been accomplished riding or driving in a car, such distance taking mere motorized minutes. Training and running competitive races, persevering in driving your body to compete as an individual or in a team sport, win or lose; so much is learned about yourself and life experiencing winning and losing, persevering and enduring, falling and getting up.
Our young men at the home participate in a 500-600 mile bike ride annually, something they have never done before coming to the PAYH. The achievement makes its mark in their character. A few years ago the ride was 1500 miles to commemorate Paul Anderson doing it on an ordinary one speed bike in 1961 to publicly announce the birth of the PAYH. When he was bed-ridden many years later because of kidney disease and severe genetic arthritis, he would still attempt to do as many crunches in bed as he could do into the multiple hundreds per day. His whole life was reflective of disciplined and intense physical and spiritual exercise.
Lent is a physical and spiritual exercise reflecting the physical and spiritual nature of our being. It is an exercise which can be practiced throughout the year or with more intensive focus in this season before Easter. Lent is a period of time in the church year which some acknowledge and practice variously and some ignore. It has been practiced for centuries in the church and begins for those who desire on Ash Wednesday continuing for forty-six days until Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. The six Sundays in those six weeks are not counted as days of Lent, leaving forty days. Why forty? They are reflective of the forty days our Lord spent in the desert after his baptism tempted by the devil, and winning that contest (a battle of infinite proportion). All for you! The rain bringing about the great Noahic Flood continued unabated for forty days. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Moses spent 40 days on the mount with God when he received the Ten Commandments. If you study God’s use of the number forty in the Bible you will see it is not an insignificant number in God’s economy, even if we do not know why. But this is exactly why the church, centuries ago, chose forty days within each year, a year in which the Christian is reminded of the key events in the Lord’s life and work for our salvation. The forty days of Lent is intended as a time of reflection on your sin and meaningful moments of repentance encompassing the time of the Lord’s death on Good Friday and culminating in his victory over death itself on the first Easter Sunday.
Of course it is not necessary for the believer to acknowledge and practice Lent, any more than it is necessary to acknowledge Pentecost Sunday or Advent/Christmas season (which every Christian actually does in one way or another). It is not necessary, but is it beneficial in your walk with the Lord? Is a consistent time of reflection on your sin and experiencing a penitent heart an essential ingredient of a believer’s genuine walk in the Spirit? A cursory reading of the Bible would answer this question with “Absolutely! How can you escape the Lord’s own words in this regard? The spiritual exercise which characterizes Lent can be a weekly practice if one so chooses for a day or two culminating with the joy of worship every resurrection Sunday, which every Sunday is. After all, coming to Jesus for confession and forgiveness of sin is continuously breathing the Christian life (1 John 1:9).
Christian, whatever you seek to do in consistently putting to death the sins of your sinful nature and clothing yourself with the righteousness of Christ, your Savior, do not trivialize the practice of Lent which even some of those who acknowledge it do. Whatever, your tradition has or has not been, you must be engaged in the sanctifying practice of crucifying your sinful nature, purposefully and truly, or you do not belong to Jesus. Not I, but the Lord, commands it. Are you engaged in the spiritual and physical exercise of Lent even if you do so in June or August or January? If you belong to Christ you must be about it sometime. Your pursuit of this with discipline and perseverance is not unlike your athletic endeavors, only it is infinitely more important and infinitely more rewarding. What you gain is not necessarily a healthy body, which will grow old and die, but you gain a healthy soul; you gain Jesus himself!
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