COVER STORY – Lent
I’ve never found myself in a situation where I felt I needed to refuse a gift. Some obviously have. No honorable woman would ever, for example, accept a diamond ring while refusing a marriage proposal (as much as she might like to). Others may have found it necessary to refuse gifts that would obligate them to unacceptable terms or conditions.
Beginning February 26th, our God will again be offering to each of us the gift of Lent. The question that confronts all Christians each Lenten season is whether we will accept or refuse this divine present. How, why, would any Child of God refuse?
Time for introspection and contemplation
The gift that our God offers in connection with the season of Lent is a unique and invaluable time for introspection and contemplation, but it does not come without certain obligations. Human beings are, by nature, hedonistic, superficial, ungrateful, and lazy. We also have a natural sense of entitlement, imagining that we deserve whatever good things we want or receive. Christians know better, but our Adversary has learned from experience that if he can fill our existence with distractions and obligations, if he can create a world of perpetual preoccupation, he can tap into both our natural laziness and our sense of entitlement, and thereby convince us that the obligations of Lent outweigh the benefits.
Counting the cost
The point here is not that the obligations of Lent aren’t real. They are. Begin therefore by counting the cost. If your plate is truly full, you can’t add more without forcing something else off. “Carving out time” implies that something has to be cut off and discarded. Recognize also that the obligations of Lent involve more than just an hour or two for a half dozen Wednesday services (which can include cleaning off and bundling up little ones, a cold car ride, and the disruption of the family routine). Receiving the whole gift also includes the dedication of private time and the investment of thought and prayer, including humble and honest introspection both in and out of the public worship service setting. In the end, all can be reduced to a question of relative value. Which is of greater value to me, what I must put in or what I will get out?
When we put it in those terms, the question answers itself. What eternal benefit is not worth temporal effort? Yet we do ourselves a disservice if we leave the “eternal benefit” vague and undefined. We can do better.
As with any living space that is used but never thoroughly cleaned, the human heart has innumerable dark corners that tend to get ignored. Bad things tend to accumulate there—things that fester and rot over time. God’s gift of Lent includes opportunity to shine the light of His Word into those dark recesses, opportunity to identify and rid our lives of that which can cause incalculable spiritual harm. Lent also provides the time and opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the magnitude and wickedness of our sin, and therefore also with the very real and appalling burden that our Savior carried to the cross. It is a time to come to terms with the fact that my Savior did not just suffer at the hands of others; it was my sin that tormented Him, my rebellion that caused Him to be forsaken by His Heavenly Father, my abandonment that caused Him to suffer alone on that terrible cross. It is the time to recognize that I was not an innocent spectator but a guilty participant in the events of Holy Week. My eternal fate, too, hung in the balance.
The full realization and personal application of all of these truths takes time. Lent is that time. Gratefully accept the gift, and the empty tomb will thrill and comfort you as God Himself intended.
Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.