(Image courtesy of openbible.info)
Certainly there will be a day of intense sorrow; Good Friday commemorates the day which Jesus died on the cross after suffering the punishment for our sins. We need to feel that day. We need to know how low our sin dragged Jesus down, and wrestle with the ramifications of our continued sinfulness. We need to see the depths to which Jesus went for us almost two millennia before we were born because it makes the reality of Easter that much more blessed, joyous, and significant.
The real problem is perhaps a misunderstanding of Lent. People think it’s a short term New Year’s resolution, that you give up something temporarily. Ok, so what then? I always find it interesting what people are giving up. So many times they give up things they don’t think they can live without, or things that they can live without but it makes them so irritable that everyone around them just wishes they’d have a cup of coffee, or that afternoon chocolate bar, or soda with lunch. That TOTALLY misses the point. Lent is NOT a diet. It is NOT a time to test your endurance. Being in a crappy mood does nothing for Jesus, nor does it make Christianity look good to those who come in contact with you. No one benefits if they have to hear all the time everyday what you gave up and how miserable you are that you did.
Why do we give things up? The good idea behind that was that we would give up something and take the money we would have spent on that and give it to the church for mission. I personally prefer giving up an activity and spending the time you would have on that by adding a spiritual practice to your day, such as reading scripture, praying, fasting, reading devotions, singing hymns, working in a mission, etc. Give up that hour of TV and read some devotion followed by some deep prayer. Why? I am sad to say that I always hear people confess to me that they used to read their Bible everyday, or they used to be good about spending twenty minutes a day in prayer, or they used to start each day by reading a devotional. Then life happened, they got busy, and God got set aside. If there was ever a more appropriate time to renew our relationship with God and regain a consistent spiritual practice it’s Lent. I also think that in today’s culture it is far too easy to write a check, make a donation, or spare some change rather than get involved, get our hands dirty, or have to look the lost/poor/sick/imprisoned/etc. in the face. We don’t even have to so much as touch actual money anymore. I think we’ll be texting our tithes before too long.
As a pastor, I would rather hear about all the good things you will be doing for yourself, for your relationship with God, for your church, your family, your community, and the world that so desperately needs to hear the hope in Jesus Christ. I don’t want you to give something up for 40 days (46 counting Sundays) and then go back to life before Lent as if Easter never happened, or worse, it didn’t affect you. I always ask people how they expect God to spend an eternity on them if they can’t spend 20 minutes a day on God? Lent is the perfect time to pause and look at ourselves with eyes open and clear. What are we saying we value most with our time? Where are we building up our treasures? How can I grow closer to God? Lent is about introspection and expectation. We need to always nurture our relationship with God and that requires us to mature our faith through spiritual practices. We are expectant, not just for Easter morning, but for growth in our relationship with our Lord. Anything else that doesn’t move toward that misses the bigger picture. Anything else ends up being lint on Lent.