Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the forty days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for forty days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome.
It is important to note that in counting the forty days of Lent Sundays are not included. Sunday is the Day of Resurrection, as such, it is a day of celebration, not fasting. Each Lord’s Day Christians gather to worship and celebrate the Risen Lord.
Every journey begins with a first step. That first step is the decision to make the journey a reality. Vacations, business trips, or a weekend away all begin with intention.
Knowing that he would face suffering and death Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, (Luke 9:51), and with intention began the journey that would take him to the cross. The journey to Jerusalem is recounted in Luke 9:51-19:48. This section, sometimes referred to as “the travel narrative,” is concerned with the ongoing transformation of the disciples. Our Lenten journey is meant to be a journey of spiritual transformation. Lent is often diminished by the practice of “giving something up for Lent” although denying oneself chocolate for forty days hardly qualifies as a spiritual discipline.
As we move into this Lenten season, I want to suggest that rather than “give up” something for Lent, that we instead add something to our lives. I want to encourage each of us to add a specific time for spiritual reflection to our daily routine. In the following pages I will offer a few words of devotion and recommend some readings from scripture. As you read the scripture, I want to offer some practical steps toward a more intense reflection on the biblical text.
The first step on this journey toward spiritual transformation is the intention, to make the journey. This is a serious commitment. Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, knowing full well what awaited him there. If you choose spiritual transformation, do so understanding that whole-hearted devotion is essential.
Before taking the first step recall the challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs one his or her life, and it is grace because it gives one the only true life. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us”.
If you are willing to make a commitment to costly grace, then take the second step along the path of spiritual transformation. Set aside a specific time and place to commit yourself to reading, reflection, prayer, and perhaps journaling. Early morning works well for some, while bedtime may be best for you. The important point is to find a time and place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Eliminate, as much as possible, all distractions.
The third step is to be gentle with yourself. There is no rush on this journey. In fact, you will learn that this journey moves beyond the
40 days of Lent and takes you on a lifetime journey of becoming one with Christ. So, relax. Sit quietly in whatever chair or position is comfortable for you. Close your eyes and take a few deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. Relax. If you are facing an anxious day or coming down from a particularly stressful situation you may do nothing more than relax in the presence of God. That’s all right. There is no right or wrong in this practice. One of our goals in this practice is to develop the discipline of being still in the presence of God.
The fourth step on this journey is to read and reflect on the biblical text. You may want to read the text more than once. Let the words speak to you. Listen for a word or phrase in the text that addresses you where you are in the present moment. There are several texts provided for each day along the journey. Don’t interpret. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you through the text. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer in this discipline. This journey is about personal spiritual transformation. In this step you are listening for the voice of God in the written word.
As you close your time of reflection pray the scripture. This means to focus your prayer on the words of the text or the message that you have heard from God’s Spirit. Again, don’t worry about time and above all don’t worry about getting it “right.” The only thing “right” in these exercises is learning to listen for and discern the voice of God.
Finally, ask God how you can apply what you have read and heard to the activities of everyday life. We are meant to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22-23), not merely hearers.
At the end of 40 days you will have developed a holy habit of daily devotion and prayer that will translate into a deeper faith commitment and active engagement in the world. At the conclusion of the journey you will celebrate a renewed commitment to live the life of the Risen Lord in a fallen world.