Have your well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions fallen by the wayside? Many Christians seek a second chance to reclaim them during the annual Lenten season with its legendary spiritual disciplines.
For centuries, many Christians have set aside the 40 days before Easter Sunday as a time of spiritual preparation. In various degrees of fervency, they give themselves to prayer, repentance, alms-giving, heart-searching—and, for Roman Catholics, penance. Some simply deprive themselves of a favorite treat or activity during those six weeks.
Not Seventh-day Adventists. Most of us ignore the entire traditional liturgical calendar that is so dear to many fellow Christians—Lenten season included, since it’s not enjoined in Scripture, as is the seventh-day Sabbath. So we Adventists tend to go about our usual business during Lent, no more and no less spiritually focused than we are the rest of the year. (Many Sabbatarians do load their own man-made traditions upon the Sabbath—but that’s another article.)
Personally, I’ve always been among those who have ignored the Lenten season, both in sermons and in my own spiritual practice. I think we should live for the Lord the same way during the 40 days after Easter as in the 40 days previously. Jesus said we must lose our lives for His sake every day, which means all year round. In light of His saving and sustaining mercies, it’s only reasonable to be radically sacrificed for God all the time (see Romans 12:1-2).
Furthermore, I’m wary of the legalism inherent in giving up something extrinsically for Lent rather than because it’s actually diversionary or otherwise detrimental to the soul. I also think we should shun “binge and purge” religion—spiritual bulimia. Once I had lunch with a pastor who had been fasting for two or three days; he ate as much in that one meal as a horse might have eaten. What good did his previous self-denial do for him?
Isn’t it better to live balanced lives, day in and day out? Is this not a secret of longevity—physically, emotionally and spiritually? Life is a marathon rather than a sprint, so I think we can all agree that regularity in all things is essential.
All that said, I acknowledge that many wonderfully balanced Christians do find the Lenten season an opportunity to give special focus to whatever spiritual discipline they are lacking. In that spirit, this year I plan to avoid several harmless but distracting things for the sake of my need to become more strategic about Bible study.
Prayer is not the issue. Back in 2009, our Mid-America Union president at the time, Roscoe Howard, challenged pastors to devote an honest hour each day to prayer. He actually asked them to stand and commit themselves to that. I felt moved to stand with them and have since, by God’s grace, kept that pledge (except in certain situations that turned my early mornings into chaos). However, I’ve become somewhat slack in my Bible study. Too often it’s mostly listening to Scripture while exercising, with not enough in-depth Bible study. I need a strategic study plan. Regaining that is my goal during the next 40 days.
To help me focus more on the things of God than the things of this world, I’m planning to set aside for six weeks my favorite news and information website (www.drudgereport.com). I can get my necessary news elsewhere during that time.
As believers we are risen with Christ, so God calls us to seek those things above, where Jesus is, seated at the right hand of God. This requires “mortifying” (putting to death–Colossians 3:1-5) the things of this world; even something that would normally be harmless cannot be allowed to distract from our continual discovery of God. I confess that’s happened with me and it’s got to stop.
To summarize: I’m still not a devotee of Lent, nor do I ever intend to be. But this year I want to make those 40 days a useful opportunity to fine-tune my spiritual focus.