It’s here. It's now officially here. Put away those hamburgers and get that ice cream out of sight. It’s time to break out the veggie burgers and soy milk. Why? Because LENT IS HERE!
Every year at the start of Lent, I like to set a goal or focus. Instead of fasting aimlessly, I like to have a target that I'm aiming for. And this year, God convicted me that my focus is very similar to what it was two years ago. (I'm even going back and rereading the same book I was reading back then).
So I decided to dig up the old blog post from 2015 - which is equally applicable for me - and hopefully for you as well. Happy Lent everyone!
Last week I wrote about how during Lent, there is a natural temptation to focus on food – what we can eat and what we can’t eat... what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
And while it’s certainly important to follow the Church-prescribed instructions for fasting (self-prescribed is always dangerous, especially in the spiritual realm where it is very easy to deceive oneself), the goal is not the fasting.
Fasting is a means to an end, but it is not the end in and of itself. If fasting were the end goal, then Jesus would have praised the Pharisee and condemned the Publican, but instead He did the opposite (see Luke 18:9-14).
So if fasting shouldn’t be the focus of Lent, what should be? Where should my attention be focused?
I have been asking this question for the past two weeks and the answer has been overwhelmingly clear. God wants me to fast, but He doesn’t want me to be obsessed by fasting. God wants me to do charitable deeds, but He doesn’t want me to be consumed by those charitable deeds. God wants me to go to church, but He doesn’t want me to be fooled into thinking that going to church means that I am actually growing in my relationship with Him.
All of those things – while important and essential to a life in fellowship with God – are not to be the central focus of this season. So what is the focus????
The answer is PRAYER.
I am reading a book called Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom – a monk and metropolitan bishop in the Russian Orthodox church who passed away in 2003. This book is phenomenal! I highly recommend it to everyone – especially those in the STSA family – to read during this Lent.
In the book, the author gives very simple and practical advice about how to pray. He even says at the beginning:
“As I am a beginner myself, I will assume that you are also beginners, and we will try to begin together. I am not speaking to anyone who aims at mystical prayer or higher states of perfection, because these things will teach themselves.”
I won’t give away what he talks about in the book, but I will say this: IF YOU AREN'T PRAYING, YOUR LENT ISN'T GOING TO BE VERY VALUABLE.
Think about it logically. We agreed that Lent is a journey, not a season; in other words, there's a destination we're moving towards. Can you reach that destination on your own? Can you do it without prayer?
If you answer yes, that means that either a) you think very highly of yourself, or b) you think very lowly of your goal.
If prayer isn’t a central component in your Lenten journey, then either you consider yourself quite capable to do great things on your own, or you aren’t really aiming for anything all that great. It’s gotta be one of the two.
But once I realize that God wants to do something great this Lent – something greater than great, something “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” this Lent – once I realize that, praying is the only natural response. Why? Because what I am aiming for is greater than my ability to achieve it; therefore I must pray.
How about you? What are you aiming for? Do you have a goal this Lent? Are you just going through the motions? Or are you on a journey to get somewhere...somewhere super-duper special and transformational and life giving?
If so, fasting can’t accomplish it. Neither can almsgiving. Church services – as great as they are – won’t get you there alone either. Those practices are all necessary and essential, but they are not the main focus.
The only way to achieve something greater than your abilities allow – something truly supernatural and divine – is to submit yourself into the hands of the One for whom all things are possible. That is what prayer is all about.
Bloom gives the following analogy in his book:
“You remember how you were taught to write when you were small. Your mother put a pencil in your hand, took your hand in hers and began to move it. Since you did not know at all what she meant to do, you left your hand completely free in hers. This is what I mean by the power of God being manifest [in prayer].”
That’s what prayer is all about it.
"O Lord grant us all a prayer-filled Lent – one in which we learn what it means to pray and live in the Kingdom of God here on earth, and one where we reach the end and realize that what we gained is greater than anything we could have done on our own."