Lent and prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Lent is a time traditionally of fasting and repentance. Remembering in our baptism our death to sin and new life in and through Jesus, we seek to put to death all that belongs to the old life and put on all that belongs to the new life in Christ. So we can expect to be confronted with our need during this time.

There surely was a compelling force there, but still it took discipline amidst all the fears for the twelve disciples (granted, Judas Iscariot sadly had ulterior motives), designated as apostles by our Lord, not to bail out. They continued on the road with the Lord in spite of all their fears and wonderment. They couldn’t make heads or tails of the main point Jesus had made to them, that he would go to Jerusalem and actually suffer at the hands of people, be killed and on the third day be raised to life. They were living in shock, with surely some respite here and there. Even so, for them there was no turning back.

For us today, looking back on that story we can follow something of the same path the Lord puts before us in our day by day attempt to follow him by the Spirit in the fellowship of the gospel, the written word, and the church. And a big part of that can be prayer. If we give ourselves to prayer, we will deal with what needs to be dealt with along the way, I’m thinking especially of sin issues, and we’ll be open to not only take off what is unseemly, but put on what is of Christ. There is no doubt that we have pressing issues to pray about. And sometimes especially so. And we want to be open always to being God’s answer to our prayers in whatever way God may put on our hearts. As we seek to follow our Lord to the end.

Lent and expectations

In Jesus’ day most Jews were looking for a Messiah who would at long at last bring into fulfillment God’s promises so that God’s people would not just occupy the land, but no longer have powers such as the Romans, ruling over them. For the most part they were looking for a Messiah who would come in power and rule, and help them live out the Torah, the Law given to Moses.

Jesus comes along and he tells his disciples that he is going to have to suffer and die and then be raised to life. The disciples didn’t get this at all. It certainly didn’t fit into their understanding of how things should be. It was on none of their “charts.”

We too can have some idealized expectation of how things should happen. If we’ve lived long enough, we may well have long since abandoned any such expectations. We had best learn to settle down both into how the world and life actually is, and what the Lord is actually doing. And take up our crosses and follow.

But along the way we had best be prepared to be unsettled over and over again. Because the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, will often result in tossing about our assumptions, and shaking up our thinking for the change that the Lord is working in us.

And so for better and for worse in our experience at times we in Jesus are in this together. We’re on the path of the Crucified one. It is not just about his once for all death for our sins and for the sins of the world. It is also about our identification with him in his death, our death with him. Even becoming like him in his death.

Lent and the joy set before us

For the joy set before [Jesus] he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Every Sunday during Lent is to be celebrated as a mini-Easter in anticipation of Resurrection Day, Easter Sunday, when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. An important part of Lent is a looking forward to the life that comes out of death. The death of the cross in Jesus is followed by his resurrection life, shared by all the faithful, all believers beginning in this life, the culmination in the resurrection of the body and of all creation in the life to come.

So we don’t fast (if we do) or practice penitential sorrow for and confession of our sins during Lenten season only for their own good reasons. But we do so in anticipation of the joy set before us in Jesus, and we press ahead in the way of the cross so that like our Lord we can embrace and live fully in that joy to come.

Of course this process is ongoing in this life, even if punctuated with emphasis during Lenten season. It is to a major extent about joy, knowing the joy of the Lord which is our strength. As we continue to press on in this world as God’s resurrection people in Christ in the way of the cross.

Lent and sacrifice

At the heart of Lent is sacrifice. Lenten season is about following the one who gave his life as a once for all sacrifice on the cross. At the heart of such giving is sacrificial love. And it’s a love that is of God in Jesus and by the Spirit. And so as we take on the “fast” of Lent, we do so as those who would deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow our Lord in the way of love.

Of course this is not our natural bent. We naturally want to look out for ourselves, or we succumb to our fears and revert back to our default position, which is to save our lives. I think sometimes, maybe often, we may need to simply bow down so to speak and take the brunt of the waves of fear or whatnot that comes over us, and continue on following. In time the Lord will help us share in his joy and love. The peace that passes all understanding will come. But during Lent we can hopefully enter more deeply into the same kind of sufferings and death of our Lord. That we might know him more fully in his resurrection life and power.

Lent and fasting

I am not that well acclimated to either Lent or the practice of fasting. Scot McKnight’s book on fasting is the best treatment I know on the subject in which he makes the case from scripture that fasting is essentially a response to something, perhaps one’s sins, some happenings, or anticipation of God’s promises being fulfilled in a given situation. It has been a while since I’ve read my copy, but this gets at something of the summary of his scripture based suggestion, which actually is different than how it has been and is taught. Just an all around good book, which covers the angles from scripture, as well as gives words of warning and advice to those who maybe shouldn’t fast at all, and to the rest of us.

I have to acknowledge that I’ve not practiced fasting, at least for many years, and I’m hardly acclimated at all to the practice of Lent. We are creatures who not only need food for physical sustenance, but we enjoy the fellowship that can come with it, whether (preferably, I say) at the table, or in our chairs in the same room. But there is a season for fasting as well as feasting.

I particularly see fasting as helpful during a time when I want to be in engaged ongoing prayer over a matter, usually of grave concern. Since I’m not used to the practice, I try to make up for it in other ways. One way or another I want to give myself to the matter at hand in prayer to God. And keep on praying until I have some sense of release and peace on the matter. Not meaning that I won’t continue to pray about it.

There is no getting around the fact that Lent itself is to be a season of fasting of some sort. Just how we’re to practice that is often not prescribed, unless you’re part of some circles, and today compared to the history of the church, is relatively lax. It amounts to a period of 40 days of fasting, some giving up meats or what not (chocolate?), with the goal of somehow or another participating in Lent as we think of our Lord’s sufferings and death for us and look forward to his resurrection. Knowing that Jesus’ death and resurrection is not only our salvation, but that salvation takes us into something of that reality in this life.

Lent and spiritual warfare

Anyone who thinks that Lent and spiritual warfare don’t go together has another thing coming. Anyone who dismisses spiritual warfare altogether has another thing coming, as well. One way or another the enemy will be trying to get us off track, out of the grace that is ours in Jesus and away from the way of the cross which amounts to their defeat. The victory of God is in the cross of Jesus, which refers both to his death and resurrection. And his followers are to follow suit, to walk that same path into resurrection power and life in and through him.

Yes, there are spiritual entities out there, not flesh and blood, but often behind flesh and blood. Not that humans can’t be evil, we all have evil in ourselves. But they stir up the glowing ashes and pour fuel on the fire. And they seek to undermine God’s work in Jesus, which in essence is always the way of death and resurrection. We see a prime example of this after Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (those two terms being synonymous at the time, Son of God not yet bursting through to its full Trinitarian meaning I’m guessing).

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[e] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Jesus addressed Peter as Satan, but that thought is not far removed from the idea that Jesus was addressing the entity behind Peter’s words as well. Satan means opposer, but it is also the prime name for the devil. And we might as well face it: we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. Yes, the war has been won in the victory of Jesus at the cross. But we won’t do well if we fail to accept the reality of this battle. It is something we have to face and from time to time live in as in walking in the muck and the mire, which is anything but pleasant. And Lent is prime time (as much as any) for this to be to the fore. To be forewarned is to be forearmed to a significant extent. We need to be ready and to accept it as part of our following of Jesus in this life.