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Introduction to Lent

In today’s increasingly secular culture more and more people are discovering the ancient practice of Lent as a way of  renewing their faith and encountering the reality of God. They are finding that by observing Lent they experience a reviving burst of spring and each day takes on new vitality and significance.   Interestingly, the word “Lent,” means “spring,” and comes from the old English word lente, meaning “lengthen,” signifying the lengthening of the daylight hours. The longer days mean that spring has come at last.  The dark bitter cold of winter is past, sap is rising in the trees, new life budding, and countless possibilities await us.

The idea of spring-cleaning grew up around the practice of Lent as it became the ideal time of year for cleaning house. This is a season for doing some sweeping out, both physically and spiritually, clearing out the clutter, and making space for the things that really matter. As far back as the second century Christians started thinking about the lengthening days of spring as a good time for training new followers of Jesus.  Then at the end of this period of training they were ready to be baptized into Christ on Easter morning and to live fully into their new lives.

By the fourth century the days of training stretched across 40 days from Ash Wednesday to the Holy Saturday just before Easter.  These were 40 days of spiritual growth through instruction, study, prayer, and repentance.  This was a special time for cleaning house spiritually in preparation for Easter’s joyous celebration.

Because these new Christians were being received into a community of faith, the 40 days of preparation took on added significance for the community as they also wanted to prepare themselves to  live as Easter people. And for any who might have wandered from the faith this was seen as an especially welcome time to return to God and to begin again with him.

The idea of doing spring cleaning in one’s spiritual life led people to think in terms of what they needed to eliminate.  There were habits they wanted to be rid of, spiritual and relational clutter that needed sorting through. With the days of Holy Week and Easter approaching this was thought to be just the right time for awakening to life.

Psychologists differ on how long it might take to let go an old habit and take on a new one.  Estimates range from 21 days to three months.  I’m no expert on the matter but I do think that when it comes to shedding old habits, and old ways of thinking and doing, there is biblical significance to the 40 days that make up Lent.  The 40 days of Lent represent the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness praying and preparing for his public ministry.  The 40 days also represent the 40 days Moses spent with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), the 40 days Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb to meet with God (I Kings 19:8), the 40 days God gave to the people of Nineveh to repent (Jonah 3:4), as well as the 40 years that the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness preparing for entrance into the Promised Land.  There are yet more instances in the Bible where 40 days are representative of a season of change, renewal, and drawing closer to God.

However long it might take you or me to let go the old and live into the new, the fact is that the 40 days of Lent can be significant for anyone entering them with the purpose to experience more fully the adventure of following Christ. It is because the message of the cross is the power of God;  (I  Corinthians  1:18), that these daily meditations lift high the cross as the dynamic for real and lasting change.  God’s power to make new people  is revealed at the cross of Christ.  There could be no better or more profitable way for us to spend any 40 days than by lifting high the cross.
Christians have always regarded each Sunday as a mini-Easter, and a day for celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. This means that the 6 Sundays that come during Lent will not be counted as part of Lent in the daily meditations.  Rather, each Sunday’s meditation will celebrate the mystery of the resurrection and Christ’s triumph over death and the powers of darkness.

Because spring and the season of Lent are a choice time for letting go the old and living into the new, we will introduce two daily practices that have proven effective in initiating spiritual change.

SOAKING IN SCRIPTURE

The  first  daily  practice  is Soaking in Scripture. Each day’s mediation will begin with a brief Scripture rich in God’s truth and the power to transform.    Rather  than hurriedly reading the words we want to take a few moments to slow down and to allow God’s word to do its work by soaking in the words.  Soaking in Scripture involves four steps:

  • Read
    Read the Scripture slowly a time or two listening for God to speak to you.
  • Reflect
    Reflect and meditate on what you have just read.  Turn the words over and over allowing them to reach down into your heart as well as your head.
  • Respond
    Respond to what the Scriptures say to you by writing a prayer, putting the Scripture into your own words, or personalizing the text.
  • Rest
    Rest in your heavenly Father by just sitting with for a few moments and being present to him. The old monks called this “lap time” with God in which we sit and soak up his love.

ANDY MOMENTS

The second spiritual practice for the Lent I call “Andy Moments.” I take this from the times my wife returns from her early morning walk around a lake near our home and I ask her:  “Did you see Andy?”  By that I’m harkening back to the old hymn I thought I heard as a boy:  “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own.

“Andy Moments,” are any time in the day when we sense God’s presence with us, revealing himself to us, and telling us he loves us. “Andy Moments” might include:

  • An answer to prayer
  • God showing himself in his creation (sunrise, flowers, etc.)
  • God being present to us in another person
  • Having God’s help to do his work • Any evidence of God’s love and care
  • Add yours here…

Then at the end of each day we think back over our day, reflect, and name the “Andy Moments.”  If possible, share your “Andy Moments” with a loved one or friend.  Sharing will encourage both your friend and you.  Finally, we take a brief moment to thank God for always being present to us, and ask him to help us always be present to him.

These two daily practices, Soaking in Scripture and Andy Moments, are proven practices that can have a powerful, transforming influence in our lives during Lent.  You will probably want to even keep doing these two practices each day when we are through Lent!

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