Cadet Ian Robinson Reflects on Lent

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Robinson, ILent – Philippians 2:19-24

I’ve always found Lent to be a fascinating idea, but it wasn’t until the last few years of my life as I became ‘more’ mature that I realized just how fascinating the actual idea of the Lenten season is – what it represents and how we should respond to it.

In this passage of Scripture in Philippians Paul is very complementary about Timothy and later in Philippians he would also be complementary about Epaphroditus. Hear the words he says about Timothy: “I have no one else like him” in verse 20. Paul continues, “You know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” in verse 22. Is it possible that the world is less and less like Timothy and more like the “everyone else” Paul speaks about in verse twenty-one. Eugene Peterson captures it well in, “The Message”: “Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus.”

Considering previously in chapter 2 of Philippians Paul is urging us to imitate Christ’s humility and to do everything without grumbling, it is clear that Paul is trying to get a specific message across.

Everything Paul is talking about is what the world has made of Lent. Instead of it being about Jesus, or even our relationship with Him, it can be seen just as an opportunity to give something up for fun, to lose weight, or as a competition with others. This is not what Lent is about, and my hope for us all as we walk in this topic this morning is not only will we realize what Lent should be about, but that we decide to make it our pilgrimage over the next five weeks as well.

The word Lent comes from the word Lenctentid, which literally has to do with “spring” and the word “March”, which most of Lent falls within. And since the earliest times, there’s always been some kind of Lent preparation for Easter. Keep that in the backs of your minds for a minute or two, Lent isn’t something on its own, but is a preparation for Easter.

After all the changes throughout the years, the forty-day period of Lent still exists, and its main two components have always been prayer and fasting. As for why forty days, forty has always been an important number in the Bible. Moses was with the Lord for forty days and forty nights – Exodus 34:28; Elijah walked forty days and forty nights – 1 Kings 19:8 and most importantly, Matthew 4:2 says “Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights in the desert.”

Jesus fasted for forty days. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say it the same way; forty days.

The customs have changed a little and instead of having forty straight days, the time-period of Easter is from Ash Wednesday until Easter – a time-period of forty-five days. This constitutes six days a week for six weeks, with one day “off”. Ash Wednesday is a great place to start – priests would spread Ash on their heads to signify their repentance of sins during the Lenten fast.

But Lent then and Lent now are significantly different. We do not ‘fast’, as they would have back then – some including no meat or anything that came from an animal. It is rarely on Ash Wednesday that we still literally put ash on our heads. Should the true purpose behind observing Lent be any different for us?

I did some research and found that some of the things people most gave up for Lent were chocolate, twitter, swearing, alcohol, soda, sweets and fast food. Two of those I could give up really easily! Also on the top lists were things such as school, homework, and some people practiced Lent from Lent. They give up Lent, for Lent. In other words, they did not give up anything.

For the most part, as mentioned earlier, people see Lent as an opportunity to better themselves physically. Lent is a wonderful opportunity for Christians to enrich our spiritual lives. And while as Salvationists it is not technically mandatory to observe Lent, why would we not want to?

Why would we be happy to be the “most people” that Paul talks about when we have the opportunity to be more like Timothy? We do not have to be Timothy, but striving to be more like him cannot hurt.

Paul said: “most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus.”

Who would you rather be like? I know for me it is hard in the world we live in not to worry about our own needs, and it is hard to just give something up that we’d otherwise enjoy.

Therein we find the beauty of what Lent should be about. It’s not about giving up chocolate, or coca cola, it’s more about looking past something we want for ourselves and looking to Jesus instead. He wants us to take something that is currently sitting “shotgun” with him on the throne of our heart and to let it go, for him. It is not even about suffering! People might say, well, I’m going to give up Sour Patch Kids (a sour candy) because I’ll miss it the most. First of all, they’re delicious. But that’s not the point. It’s also not the point of Lent to give up something you’ll miss.

The reason we give up something we’ll miss is not because we’ll miss it but because it’s so ingrained in us to enjoy it that it is taking us away from God. This is not a New Year’s Resolution, where we trivially give up something to better ourselves physically. Lent is a time to be in preparation for Easter and the time gives us the opportunity to grow spiritually. Jacob Winters said that Lent is not just about putting away bad things, but creating good things. So I ask you, what can you give to God?

For example, I’ve decided that on school/church nights I’m not going to watch Modern Family on my laptop before going to sleep. Yes, I’ll miss it and no it won’t be easy. However, the purpose behind it is I want to be less tired the next day so I can give more time and energy to God. An easy reminder is every time you miss whatever it is you gave up, instead of yielding to temptation, PRAY. You will be tempted. Jesus was tempted in the desert, when he was on his forty day fast, and we know that each time the devil tempted him he would say things like “man shall not live on bread alone”; “do not put the Lord your God to the test”. Jesus resisted him as we hear his response, “away from me Satan.”

Giving something over to God for the next few weeks is not going to be easy. The reasoning is when we try to offer God the full throne to our heart, Satan wants to try to put other things in there. Though some things may seem like trivial things to give up to God, anything that can get us closer to God is worth surrendering. So think of something to give over to God, and never think that there’s something that could be too big or even too small. We just need to prepare our hearts for Easter, and the best way to do that has been put on a silver platter for us: fast from something, draw closer to Jesus, and pray. If you miss the something, draw closer yet again, and pray.

What’s ironic in all of this is that we’re even given a cheat day! Most people see Sunday as “a day off” from Lent. Personally, it is the more obvious day to get closer to Jesus without having to give something up. Frankly, if we have to give something over to God on Sundays to get closer to Him then there may be a bigger issue at hand.

Six days a week for five weeks is the challenge.

I do not want to be like “most people” and focus on me, instead I want to take something I might otherwise focus on, and concern myself more with things of Jesus.

Pope Francis once said “although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.” Lent is about giving God more space. Lent is about following Christ. Luke 9:23 says whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps.

Are you willing to do these things? Lent is an important decision, don’t just say I love chocolate so I’ll give up chocolate. Pray that Jesus is the center for you. Ask him to show you what is blocking him as being the center.

Satan will tempt you. Taking up our cross every day is not always going to be an easy thing to do but there are no better steps for us to follow than Jesus’ steps.

Concern yourself with things of Jesus. Let him guide you, walking beside you. Let him be your center.

A Prayer – God, during these 40 days, let me put away all my pride. Let me change my heart and give up all that is not good within me. Let me love God with all that I am and all that I have.