Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent wasn’t a part of my Baptist upbringing. I actually didn’t know much about it until my years at a Catholic university and, seeing some spiritual benefit, I began my yearly observance of Lent – at least superficially. I’d decide on something I could live without for 40 days and suffer through abstinence of chocolate, cookies, cakes or cherry pie. By the time Resurrection Sunday arrived, I don’t know that I had grown or changed deeply in anyway. I can’t say that I was closer to God. Truth: I just wanted to indulge in all I’d missed for six weeks.
As we enter this season of Lent, I feel Holy Spirit encouraging me to view with fresh eyes all these 40 days can be as I surrender them along with myself to Him. He urges me to see beyond the sacrifice of my daily visit to McDonald’s for a large vanilla latte with nonfat milk, beyond my Thursday night guilty pleasure of prime time soaps, beyond that slice of key lime cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. As I look at the Cross, I recognize there is something beyond that kind of sacrifice that will bring me to a deeper place of fulfillment and purpose. I hear a call to that place beyond, to a new place of sacrifice and surrender that has Kingdom impact.
Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the finished work of the cross. It is the perfect time to repent, to change our thinking and thus our behavior, so that our lives in every aspect are more perfectly aligned with the life Jesus Christ died for us to live. It is time for us to align our hearts more perfectly with His so that His love flows unhindered to all we encounter.
So as I respond to the tugging of Holy Spirit on my heart strings, I find myself asking what the next 40 days are to look like for me. It’s not enough to do what I have always done, to give up what is conveniently sacrificial. I must allow Him to open my eyes to see Lenten sacrifice differently. Beyond the sacrifice there must be transformation. I must find my soul changed and the lives of others enriched as a result or it just becomes one of those traditions of men that Jesus warned of — my sacrifice reduced to nothing but “vain worship.”
This time for me is not so much about what I give up. I am focusing on how I spend the time God gives me, how I use the resources He brings into my life, how I care for His temple, my body, how I love those He sends across my path. But beyond that I hear Him say that this will be 40 days of stepping into something new, something fresh, something unprecedented. It is 40 days of greater surrender to His voice, 40 days of deeper transformation, 40 days of unprecedented worship, prayer, listening, obedience. It is 40 days of giving as He directs and seeing each moment of each day in light of the all Christ accomplished on the Cross.
It’s finding new ways to bless, to encourage, to heal, to become the answer to someone’s prayer.
Jesus’ sacrifice gave life to all people who would just believe on Him. His life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension enriched the lives of mankind on all levels. He is the model. Should not any sacrifice we give be to enhance the lives of others? It is in that selfless giving that we find our ultimate joy. It is in a different kind of sacrifice that we will be conformed just a little more into His image.
And isn’t that ultimately what life in Him is all about?