While winter clutches us without letting go, spring is a distant hope. We know it will come but evidences of it hides. Still, we prepare for it. We think about planting. We protect tender plants from cold. Even stores begin to show clothes with spring colors and lighter fabric. We get ready for spring.
What about the spring that needs to come to our hearts? What will turn our weedy, untended hearts into a garden? What will make us believe in new beginnings and resurrections?
For me it is Lent, a forty day devotional journey to prepare me to live the truth of the empty tomb. The word Lent actually comes from a word that means spring. The timing of forty days replicates Jesus' forty days in the wilderness, his time of prayer and fasting that prepared him for his mission.
Today is the Ash Wednesday, a time when we remember where we came from and who made us. It's concurrence with Valentine's Day may be inconvenient for some, but I think it is very appropriate. We would all love better and more deeply after an intimate look at the heart of Christ and his unwavering, unfailing love toward us.
Think of it as a spring cleaning for the heart. We allow God to take us to a place where only His evaluation counts. The practice of this devotional journey involves three basic parts:
1. Give up something.
What has a hold of you that you would grow more like Christ if you lived without it? I have been pondering that question ever since I heard it. It helps me identify where I have unnecessary dependency or addiction. What is it for you? What are you tempted to believe about yourself that God calls untrue? What activity robs you of time for priorities God calls important? What dependency is your prison that God would unlock if you asked Him? Make this your first act of submission to God's shaping.
2. Confess and repent.
The repentant heart develops a hunger for more of God. You know what gets in the way of the attitudes and actions God wants to develop in you. Lent is a time to stop the excuses and rationalizations. It is a time to confess privately and corporately what separates us from God as a nation or neighborhood or family or church. Like Jesus, we number ourselves with the transgressors.
3. Prayerfully prepare.
We take time to read specifically selected Bible passages that remind us of our part in this world's waywardness. We review the life and mission of Christ and make sure our lives emulate the same. We set aside daily time to walk the path that led Jesus to the cross with the new awareness of how he "took up our pain and bore our suffering."
Last year I offered daily readings. My blog survey affirmed that for some that's just too much. so this year I doing it differently. There will be a weekly reading, usually on Wednesday, and a list of daily verses accompanied by 1 or 2 questions to guide your prayerful, introspective journey. It will take less time to complete than it takes to drink a cup of coffee or watch another run or repetitive ads on TV. That is, unless God takes you deeper, which is what I will be praying for myself and you.
Whether you join others in a special Ash Wednesday service or not, start making your plans for Lent. Nothing you do in the next forty days will be more important.
Lent Scripture Readings for 2018*
Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:6
When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then you Father who sees everything will reward you.
Where can you make private, undistracted retreat for at least 5 minutes? what are you afraid won't happen if you do this? what are you afraid might? Take these honest reactions to God and let Him direct and inform your time.
Thursday: 1 John 1:5-6
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.
How does God's light encourage you to have deeper fellowship with God? where do you experience darkness or heaviness that does not belong to God's light? Confess your need for God's light there. Be will to do what god says will move you into the light of His truth.
Friday: 2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Who are your "teachers" of any category of information from spiritual to political? Where might you be listening to what you want to hear? Consider fasting what does not help you hear what Jesus would agree with.
Saturday: Matthew 9:2
Some men brought to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, "take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
What paralyzes you and robs you of the freedom Jesus wants you to have? Whose faith brought you to Jesus? Who is "paralyzed" and you need to bring them to Jesus?
First Sunday of Lent: Mark: 1:12-13
At once the spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
What defines "wilderness" for you? How might God define a prescribed "wilderness?" Where are you tempted to doubt, to fear, or to choose a path God does not will for you? How will you embrace God's Word as your way to confront temptation?
Monday: Psalm 77:1-2
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. Where I was in distress, I sought the Lord: at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.
Does your "wilderness" make you cry to God for help? What distressing thoughts keep you from being "comforted?" what will make you look to God before rehearsing what-ifs or if-only's.
Tuesday: Job 5:8-9
But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
What is your "appeal to God" for this day? What is the difference between laying your "cause before him" and asking for a miracle or some circumstantial change? which involves more submission?
* Special Note:
You can download a copy of these scriptures by clicking here.
You can download last year's daily readings by clicking here.
If you have any trouble, contact me here and tell me what you want. I am happy to send it to you by e-mail attachment.