Introduction: An Invitation to a Holy Lent
Lent is a time for quietness, for confession and for greater critical scrutiny of our spiritual lives. Traditionally, Christians engage in certain practices during this season. For example, they often fast from food until dinnertime on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Christians frequently modify their diets during Lent as well, abstaining from meat or rich foods on Wednesdays and Fridays. Christians also typically identify something they tend to enjoy and try to live without it during the forty days of Lent. Whether that’s chocolate or coffee, soda or alcohol, news or social media, Lent is a time to live simply and to loosen our attachments to material things.
All this talk of ascetic activities might strike some as being hopelessly dour and legalistic. One popular Christian writer typifies this attitude when he writes, “The entire fabric of Old Testament teaching and Hebrew thought…argues against dualism and asceticism, by inference and example.”[i] If this is true, it’s odd that fasting, surely an ascetic activity, is mentioned almost one-hundred times in the Old Testament and another forty-three times in the New Testament.
Asceticism is not the problem. The problem is the human heart, which tends to take the good things God has created and corrupts them. Lent is a time to take certain things away for a time and see what we‘ve become attached to. We do this because our attachments simply cannot make us happy. Remember what St. Augustine famously wrote at the beginning of the Confessions: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”[ii] The created things of the world may satisfy for a season, but they simply cannot satisfy eternally.
Thus Lent is not about legalism, but about seeking a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. If you desire a deeper walk with God — and I hope you do — this is going to take some work, just like anything else in life. God will meet you if you’ll consistently meet with him in a spirit of humility and repentance.
This Lenten devotional is designed to help you meet with God but it’s also designed to be realistic. Each lesson contains a series of texts that should take about fifteen minutes to read. The flow of the texts follows an ancient Lectionary whose roots, in various forms, trace back all the way to the fifth Century.[iii] In other words, this devotional tracks how the Church has observed Lent for centuries.
Each day presents a short set of readings from the Bible, usually just a few verses. Accompanying these readings is a brief introduction. After this, comes a set of reflection questions, a comment section to tie things together and some suggested applications. There are six days of lessons for each week since Sunday is always a feast day.
Although each lesson will not take very long to read, I invite you to stop, to linger, to meditate and to pray over the texts, the questions and the included comments. Let these texts be a spur to reflection and to opening yourself up to God. Think of this devotional as the introduction to a conversation you might have with God, with friends, with clergy, with whomever you choose. The applications listed at the end of each lesson are purposely designed to be diverse enough to give you various opportunities to put these lessons into action. If you find an activity you like, then by all means, keep doing it throughout Lent.
Lastly, if you find a section boring or unhelpful, please feel free to skip it. The point is not to slavishly tie yourself to this devotional. The point is to meet with Christ. Please accept this invitation to encounter God through a Holy Lent over the next forty days.
[i] Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2003), 20.
[ii] Kevin Dodge, Confessions of a Bishop: A Guide to Augustine’s Confessions (Dallas, TX: Incarnation Classics Publishing, 2014), x.
[iii] http://www.lectionarycentral.com/advent1/Crouse1to4.html, Accessed 12-5-2015