Thursday, February 18, 2010

Don't Just Give Up - Give Back

Today, Ash Wednesday begins the 40 day season of Lent.  A period marking the 40 days before Jesus death and resurrection.  40  is a number of great biblical significance including  the number of days Jesus spent in the desert before starting His public ministry.  It was here that He was tempted. He was in essence preparing and disciplining himself, to do the work God had called him to.

The 40 days of Lent leading up to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is a time of reflecting on the cost and sacrifice that was made on our behalf. I have come to realize that despite my best attempts I will never be perfect and sometimes it seems I can not even do good, but thankfully grace is extended to me through the cross. As I reflect on all that Christ endured I find myself asking, how can I love Him better. The answer comes quite plainly in Scripture "Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself."  So for me Lent is a season of purposeful focus, learning what it means to Love God and others better and then putting it into practice. Loving God better requires giving more of myself to Him and to others, while trusting in the fullness of all that was completed on the cross.

Lent is a time for self-reflection, saying search my heart oh God and reveal any unclean way in me and then turning away from those things. A time for learning what it means to follow Christ, and to listen to the Spirit. A time for actually going about changing one's ways to be more as Christ would have us be.  That being said, I have never quite understood, some of the practices that are adopted during the Lenten season.  Some of it seems quite trivial. For example, what benefit is it to God or anyone else if we give up chocolate or coffee for 40 days only to return to the same indulgent pleasures on the 41st day. If we are going to give something up, shouldn't we choose something worth giving up for good? It is then that we are truly developing the discipline of self-control and identifying with the sufferings of Christ.  

I suggest however that Lent involves more than just a giving up but also a giving back; a giving back to God of ourselves and a giving of ourselves to others.  Jesus gave everything up all the way to the cross, so that we could eventually have everything back. He gave it all up so He could give it all back.  

I have decided to give up some things this Lenten season (2011), hoping to break habits which rob me of time with God and others, and yet do not add to my  life.  TV, Facebook,  and unnecessary expenses, to list a few.  Now giving up these things for 40 days is fine but not overly beneficial to God or others. It is only worth doing, if I come to a place where it no longer masters me, where a negative habit is broken.  I love the Franciscan phrase, "The less that "stuff" preoccupies our lives, the more room there is for God, as well as for ourselves and for other people." Thus giving up must be replaced with a giving back. So by giving these things up, I can now invest that time in my relationship with God and in serving others. Where I would typically be on Facebook or in front of the TV, I will read His word, pray, worship and spend time serving and building relationship with others. In essence, God helping me, I am changing my ways to be more like Christ would have them be, serving others and glorifying God. The money that I save by not purchasing a coffee, or fast food, or items to indulge me or more often others, will go towards my missions trip to India as well as helping to break an especially sticky habit.

Yesterday served as a perfect example on how giving up is simply a means for giving back.  I had just finished visiting with a friend and was going to go home and rest for a bit in front of the TV before going to bible study.  Then I realized, oh yah, I gave up TV, so instead, I drove to Martha's Table, a local soup kitchen and served supper to the disadvantaged. Then I came home and made dates to go have coffee with people over the week.

I have no idea what your intentions are for the Lenten season, but might I suggest you take this 40 days to reflect on the immense gift of grace that was enabled through Christ's sacrifice. Then God helping you, surrender your heart, time and desires and ask Him to reveal to you what you can/should give up in order to love Him and others better.  Develop a great new habit, one that mirrors the heart of Christ, while at the same time eliminating a habit that otherwise serves as a stumbling block in your relationship with God and others.

"Jesus is not looking for self-torture, self-hatred, woe-is-me thinking, 40-day starvation and oceans of tears. (Many great saints and plain fools have thought that's what He wanted.) Lent is for soberly looking into yourself and getting down to what's real. Self-hatred is not being real. How could it be right to despise someone whom God loves and treasures? The Sundays aren't counted in the 40 days of Lent, because every Sunday carries with it a part of the glow of Easter Sunday. So it's not all gloom and doom. But even on the Sundays, the theme of repentance (turning from our ungodly ways) holds true. When you repent, you please God whether you fast or not, and that is what most counts for Lent."

Much like Jesus - God has great things for you to do. In fact Jesus said "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."  If Jesus had to spend 40 days in the desert, resisting temptation and preparing for the work God had for Him to do, then we would be well served to take these 40 days to do the same.  Commit this time to God, allow Him to work in and through you, focused on allowing Him to transform and prepare you to do Great things in His name.

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