District Fellowship News

March, April 2011

Whenever we approach spring, we find many church traditions revolving around Christ’s death and resurrection. Many of these traditions revolve around the Lenten season. Starting 40 days or so before Easter Sunday, Lent is supposed to be a time of preparation for the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial. The concept was to  get oneself ready spiritually for the celebration of Easter. Although many Protestant churches do not participate in Lenten observances, there is something important we can glean from the process.

 For many, their experience with Lent involved someone coming to them sometime during the 40 days before Easter and, in the context of a conversation, sharing that they had given up or chosen to abstain from something during Lent. Smoking, drinking, maybe meals, or a favorite food such as chocolate were always popular. The self-denial was not just an exercise in pain and suffering, but a tangible means to start realigning one’s priorities during the season. Whatever was given up could be replaced with charity, maybe giving what we would have spent on the activity. If we chose to give up movies or television the time that was saved could be used more productively for God. Of course, when it is a tradition we follow each year instead of a life style every day, following through on a commitment to fast (or deny ourselves) becomes binding and legalistic instead of freeing. Fasting at any time cannot just be about meeting the goal or fulfilling the criteria but instead should focus us on our relationship with God. Certainly, the intent of this period of preparation was not to become a rote performance, but after years it certainly can become that in our hearts. Along with the self-denial there was also an emphasis on prayer and soul searching. Our hearts should be repentant, and interested in growing closer to the One who gave his life for us, refocusing our thoughts towards him, who he is and what he has done can help us to grow spiritually.

 But this then begs the question, why for 40 days before Easter should we refocus our attention towards God. Why not 5 months before or 6 months, how about the whole year through? This is part of the reason many Protestant churches do not follow through on the Lenten tradition. They believe that it is not a special time of year that we fast and pray but that these should be disciplines we have in our lives every day the whole year through. Repentance, prayer, cheerful giving, self-control should be a part of a Christian’s everyday walk not just used once a year for a few days. The importance of Christ’s death and resurrection should never be downplayed and forgotten. Actually it really should be celebrated every time we gather as a body (that is exactly what the early church did) , and we should meet together in piety  and soberness of understanding, never taking lightly what our Heavenly Father has done for us.

 Unfortunately, there is a danger in this way of thinking. We can decide not to participate during Lent because we think we are better than that. We believe in participating all year, that’s the better way, and yet we make the worst mistake of all. We fail to celebrate ’Lent’ at all. We don’t dedicate ourselves to prayer, we give very little, and we give up nothing. The Word of God reminds us to pray without ceasing, to be a cheerful giver, and to set ourselves apart, and yet we don’t do any of it. We disdain the tradition because it should be a way of life, and then we fail to make it our way of life. We do not take seriously the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We end up treating it too lightly ourselves.

 Samson did something like this in the book of Judges. He was a Nazirite, one ‘holy to the Lord’. There were some simple guidelines that should have been reasonably easy to follow: no alcohol, stay away from corpses and graves, don’t cut your hair. Samson not only breaks everyone of these conditions but he strays away from his God. He forgets the reason for these restrictions, this fasting. He is to be set aside as God’s servant, and staying close to His heavenly father will allow him to be the deliverer he was born to be. However like most of us, his focus was on this life, the here and now, and not on following God. He fails miserably in his personal life because of his misplaced focus.

 We must be careful to cultivate these spiritual disciplines and this focus in our every day lives. We may not feel the need to abstain from meat, or dairy, or sugar during 40 days in March and April but we should be willing to give up anything that our Lord asks us to any day. We may not supercharge our prayer lives from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, but that should be because we have already realized we need a good prayer life to build our relationship to God, and we may not give extra during the Easter season, but we certainly should be cheerfully and sacrificially giving all the year long. Prepare yourself for Christ’s presence every day. There is nothing sacred about celebrating Lent around Easter, but never let the principle of preparation be out of your life .