Could you be a better Christian than you are today? I chuckled even as I typed that question because the answer is obvious. We are all ‘becomers,’ growing more into the likeness of Jesus as time passes. I look back at my life and thank the Lord for His faithfulness to lead me to know Him better, to grow in grace, even while realizing that there still discoveries about Him to be made, victories to be won.
Christians around the world enter a season of preparation today, the first day of Lent, “Ash Wednesday.” It is called this because the ashes traditionally made from palm fronds from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday are used in some Christian traditions to mark the forehead as a reminder of mortality and humility. Lent has primarily become known for a little practiced spiritual discipline- fasting. The purpose of the Lenten fast is to encourage Christians to break the grip of their earthly appetites to that they are hungry for the Word of God. Lent stretches over the weeks that lead up to the celebration of the Resurrection.
Christian friend, while I know that religious traditions can lose their meaning and effectiveness, I do believe that we all can benefit by taking time during Lent to focus anew on the Cross of Christ. How about joining me in renewal of the practice of fasting? Fasting, in the most narrow meaning, is about abstaining from all food. The discipline does not require such a radical step. Fasting can be an act of obedience offered in faith to God that opens us to a new experience of the Holy Spirit’s Presence! We can ‘fast’ a meal a day, or set aside desserts, or put away our smartphones for a time each day, or …. well, why not ask the Lord how he would desire to renew your devotion?
Let’s remember that we are both spirit and flesh, that what we do in our physical body affects our spiritual life and how we worship affects our daily life in this world. So, will we become amazingly devout Christians just because we don’t eat ice cream during the 40 days of Lent? No, but if we choose to fast (give up to God) some pleasure as an act of worship; if we add to true worship to our devotion, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to act in us.
If we fast and think that our small sacrifice earns God’s approval, we have missed the point entirely. Religious ritual, done for the purpose of impressing God and/or other people, is worse than useless; it is a expression of sinful pride. That is why Jesus urged us to practice spiritual disciplines like fasting, giving, and prayer without telling anyone. Such choices, because they are acts of faith, must be very personal.
Jesus said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT) If we ‘show off’ or if we judge those who do not practice a discipline as we do, we rob the disciplines of any value. They become nothing more than the display of religion and empty traditions or worse, a means of making ourselves feel better than someone who does not share our conviction.
Will you give up ice cream for Lent? If you do, do it for the purpose of seeking the Lord. (I think we might be better served by giving up some TV time for prayer, meditation or reading Scripture.) Don’t do it just because I said to. Rather, pray about it. Ask the Lord if you need to discipline your body to provide freedom for the spirit. Here’s a word from the Word about living in the Spirit. Think deeply and prayerfully on the promise of this passage.
Let’s truly enter the spirit of Lent – attending to our hearts, presenting ourselves to our God, recognizing our weaknesses even as we receive His Spirit’s strength. Pray to grow! How wonderful to come to the celebration of His Resurrection knowing a new intimacy, a greater desire to love God and others, and to experience the joy of Christ.
Here is a word from the Word. Spend a few moments letting this truth settle in your mind today. “So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.” (Galatians 5:16-18, NLT)
“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)
Take my life and let it be consecrated
Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee
Take my voice and let me sing
Always only for my King
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee
Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry power as You choose
Here am I all of me
Take my life it’s all for Thee
Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
Take my love my Lord I pour
At Your feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee
Chris Tomlin | Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan | Louie Giglio
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