“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” Pope Francis
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 junk food, Coke, maybe an hour or two of television. 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 was just ready to indulge in all I’d missed for six weeks.
As we enter this season of Lent, Holy Spirit encourages me to view with fresh eyes all this season can be as I surrender these 40 days along with myself to Him. He urges me to see beyond the sacrifice of my daily visit to my favorite coffee spot for a large vanilla latte with nonfat milk, beyond Tuesday nights spent with the Parsons family on “This Is Us”, beyond that slice of key lime cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Even beyond the fasting. 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 true 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 every aspect of our lives are more perfectly aligned with the life Jesus Christ died and rose again 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. A time of recognizing that this new life is no just about me; it is about others.
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. Beyond the sacrifice, the lives of others should be enriched. Otherwise, Lent becomes another religious exercise void of power. It becomes a tradition of men and my sacrifice reduced to nothing but “vain worship.” (Matthew 15)
Jesus offered a different kind of sacrifice. The blood of goats and bulls could not take away our sin, give eternal life, or restore the intimate love relationship God intended before the foundations of the world. Only the Lamb, the Word Made Flesh could fulfill God’s plan, justify us, save us.
For what power does the blood of bulls and goats have to remove sin’s guilt?
So when Jesus the Messiah came into the world he said,
“Since your ultimate desire was not another animal sacrifice,
you have clothed me with a body
that I might offer myself instead!
Multiple burnt offerings and sin-offerings
cannot satisfy your justice.
So I said to you, ‘God—
I will be the One to go and do your will,
to fulfill all that is written of me in your Word!’ (Hebrews 10:4-7 TPT)
With this in mind, I must rethink the nature of my sacrifice. Rethink 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. These days and weeks must be about stepping into something new, something fresh, something unprecedented and emerging a different Deborah than when I began. This is a time of greater surrender to His voice, greater levels of intimacy, greater levels of obedience, for absolute obedience is far better than any sacrifice I make. This season will be one 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, and being transformed in the process.
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 do the same? It is in the selfless giving of ourselves to Him and then to others that we find our joy and fulfillment. 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?