Scooping ashes from the fireplace and cleaning lint from the clothes dryer filter is not particularly difficult, but neither are they on my bucket list. However, just as these actions make other parts of life more enjoyable, so the season in the Christian year known as Lent leads to a more enjoyable life.
Lent commences six weeks preceding Easter. This year that is March 31. It is time set apart for the purpose of drawing closer to God through a greater focus and intensity. Sadly, the season is often reduced to the simple act of giving up something genuinely enjoyed. Certainly there is advantage in remembering to be thankful and growing in self-discipline. Nevertheless, these actions fall short of the genuine purpose of the season which is to explore where we have gotten away from God and determine how to fan the embers of that relationship back into a fire that both warms the soul and produces spiritual fruit.
Kyle Idleman observes that often Christians are more fan than follower. A fan is an enthusiastic admirer who prefers things to be comfortable and shallow. A follower, on the other hand, is willing to invest whatever resources and energy is required to know the one they follow and become like him or her in how they think and act. Lent is all about following.
Most Protestants have been taught to be careful of “good works” lest they lead to a denial of our dependence on God’s grace for our salvation. John Wesley, however, worried that an overemphasis on God’s grace would lead to a lazy faith that bore no fruit. Lent is about pruning our faith to be more productive in building the kingdom of God and deepening our love relationship with Jesus Christ (James 2:26).
C.S. Lewis focuses on the difference between Unselfishness and Love in “The Weight of Glory”. The former encourages going without good things ourselves whereas the latter points to the importance of the happiness of others rather than the role of abstinence in our own life. The focus of Lent encompasses more than merely ourselves. It is about the Divine Other, Jesus Christ.
Gratitude, discipline, recognizing failures and choosing a better path are all good. They are even better when they are the first steps in growing our relationship with the Father and His kingdom. The Psalmist said “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.” Life is now. God wants us to grow and mature. He looks forward, as should we, to a more intimate relationship someday with us and other followers in heaven.
Lent? It is more than bits of thread or fuzz from yarn and fabric, i.e. lint. It is a cry to the Lord of the Universe “most of all help us to know always the reward of being near to you.”