Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Let Me Ash You Something - Some Thoughts on Lent

Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 10) is Ash Wednesday which means the liturgical season of Epiphany is ending and Lent is beginning. Ruth Haley Barton writes
"Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Church’s observance of the Lenten season—six weeks that are set apart for the purpose of drawing closer to God and seeking him with greater intensity. Unfortunately, the Lenten season often gets reduced to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a fine question, but it can only take us so far. The real question of the Lenten season is, “How will I repent and return to God with all my heart?”
This begs an even deeper question: “Where in my life have I gotten away from God, and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?” 
. . . As God gives us wisdom and insight about our true condition, we can choose spiritual practices that are uniquely suited to help us return to God in the places where we have strayed or to renew our passion where our hearts have grown cold."
Are there places where you have gone cold? When you're alone and quiet, do you sense places where you have strayed from trusting in God's love? Where are you still living as an orphan and not as God's beloved? I can think of two or three such places in my own life, places where God's reign has little traction, places where I still rely on my own strategies for living. Lent helps us remember that we are in need not only of learning to say "yes" to God in surrender, but "no" to things that keep us from that surrender. This is what grace is and does.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)
Dallas Willard wisely observed two objectives for any disciple seeking to live as Jesus did. These correspond to the "yes" of surrender and the "no" to the things that get in the way of that surrender.
"The first objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no “catch,” no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out.
. . . The second primary objective of a curriculum for Christlikeness is to remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, of “enslavement” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6), to their old habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action. These are the “automatic” patterns of response that were ground into the embodied social self during its long life outside The Kingdom Among Us. They make up “the sin that is in my members” which, as Paul so brilliantly understood, brings it about that “wishing to do the good is mine, but the doing of it is not” (Rom. 7:18)." (Divine Conspiracy, 321-22).
 As we think of these two objectives, Lent clearly focuses on the second - the removal of "automatic responses against the kingdom of God." These are the orphan practices we learned while living "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Think of what you rely on to get by when you're afraid and alone. Do these things bring life or death?

Take time and space to search your hearts this week. As you listen, ask your loving Heavenly Father what hindrances might exist that prevent you from freely, naturally and easily delighting in His love for you. In his presence, talk to him about these things. Receive his forgiveness and his vision for what your life could look like with him.

Don't lose heart - this process takes a lifetime! God is in no hurry. As Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, "Above all, trust in the slow work of God." He is not impatient or frustrated with you or your lack of progress. He is delighted with every movement you make in his direction! Soak in his lenten love, and let that transform whatever "no" you need to engage in as an act of a lover responding to the summons of a jealously tender God.


Vivian Ruth Sawyer said...

Scott, you have never written anything that I haven't found profoundly meaningful.

Scott said...

Thank you sister! May the Lord bless you and keep you.