Prayer article for S.S. - No. 17
The Lamb of Lent: 40 day testing of transformational prayer
As a child, I remembered being given a tiny cardboard box around this time of year and it represented a period where I would give up something that I would normally buy and place those coins in the box for what we called "self denial." As a little girl, it impressed on me several lessons. I knew that Easter was coming. Even with my "mite," I still had something to share and it was a discipline with positive results. These things did not come to me naturally. My actions were quite mechanical, in fact. But my parents and the elders of the congregation tried to reveal the goodness of this practice in my young life.
As I grew I realized that this was all about Lent, preparing me and the whole congregation for a precious purpose leading up to the celebration of the Resurrection. This was an aid to a larger picture, helping my spiritual formation and I thought it just meant I couldn't go to the candy store to buy a chocolate bar.
What do you think of when I say the word, "denial?" Of course there are negative connotations and therapists might be screaming at me to soften the message. What do you think of Lent? Or do you even think about it? Has this become a softened word no longer appropriate to our lifestyle? I would like for us to consider the great significance of Lenten practices as we prayerfully prepare for the excitement of Easter and the hope we have in the Resurrection.
In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40 day Lenten season (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter. In this time, Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The Bible does not mention either one of these customs but it does acknowledge a time of repentance and mourning in ashes (2 Sam. 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Dan. 9:3).
However, the meaning of Lent is a wake up call to rouse us from our complacency and a ‘detox' of our spiritual system, making us ready for the explosive celebration of God's ultimate sacrifice, breaking the chains of death and defying the strongholds of the enemy. As wonderful as this time sounds, there are no Hallmark cards for Lent but it very well could be an opportunity to motivate us individually and rally us as a congregation as we go deeper into the significance of this spiritual transformation.
Lent is about participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Put another way, it is a radical centering on God, dying to an old identity conferred on us by culture, tradition or just plain sin and being born into a new creation centered on the Spirit of God. It means dying to behaviors that have become destructive - thought patterns that eat away at us from the inside or masks we wear to conceal an ugly identity looming in our hearts. It might be relationships that have gone sour and need to be redeemed and made new or unresolved grief over wrongs and we need to die to the burdens that weigh us down.
Lent is about surrender to the Lamb - to embrace holiness and purity in our lives. Martin Luther said, "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness." It is not a negative angle but an offering God extends to us as we consider the lessons of Lent and it results in newness of life.
Lent calls us to participate in the Body of Christ and as a body of believers. How powerful would it be to agree as a congregation to experience the release of sorrow, not afraid of our sinfulness, and allowing transformation for the Lamb of glory.