Lent is the season of the church year preceding Easter. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent encompasses 40 days leading up to Easter (not including Sundays, because Sundays are celebrations of the Resurrection: they are mini-Easters each week). Established since the fourth century, Christians have used this opportunity to seek God on a deeper level and to prepare their hearts for the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. That inner preparation often includes special times of prayer, fasting, repentance and giving to those in need.
Lent is an extended period of time for cultivating a deeper life in our walk with the Lord. We all get sidetracked. Sometimes we get waylaid by sin. Lent is a time for pursuing God, allowing him to examine our hearts, and repenting from anything that draws us away from Jesus. It is a season to refocus ourselves on the Lord.
Lent is part of the church year or liturgical calendar, which walks believers through Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit each year. A wonderful devotional tool, the church calendar helps lay people get involved (liturgy=activity of the laity). As we observe Lent this year, we are joining Christians across many denominations who value this season as a profound opportunity to turn afresh from sin, humble ourselves, and seek God with our whole being as we look forward to the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection!
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart.” –Hebrews10:19-22 (TNIV)
God invites us into his presence. As Christians we are often like the believers in the book of Hebrews—we have the way open to the Father, but we fail to come to him.
Lent is a season set aside to draw nearer to God. It is an appointed time to pursue afresh the deeper life. For nearly 2000 years, Christians have dedicated the days leading up to Easter to draw close to the Lord. This is a time to refresh our relationship with him and to refocus our hearts, minds and lives upon God the Father.
In order to refocus our lives, we must intentionally set aside everything else and draw apart with God. In his book, Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen observes, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and him alone. . . . If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give him our undivided attention.”
This Lenten season let us come—individually and corporately—to God’s loving, healing, transforming presence.
Heavenly Father, thank you that you welcome me into your presence. I want to draw closer to you over these coming weeks. Please show me what areas of my life need to change and what ways I can set aside special time for seeking you. You have invited me to come - and my response is "yes, I come to you!"
Voices from the Past Speak Powerfully in our Day. Christians today are looking for models of deep spiritual formation. They want to know what an authentic life of faith can look like. Many are dissatisfied with the shallowness of most of what surrounds them, and they are open to learn from the rich heritage of the church, extending over the past twenty centuries.
Countless radical believers have run the race before us and serve as a cloud of witnesses surrounding us as we fix our eyes on Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). We must not ignore these spiritual mentors from our Christian heritage—men and women whose wisdom and experience have stood the test of time. Voices from the past can speak powerfully in our day. They serve as companions on the pilgrimage and guides as we traverse dry deserts and endure dark nights of the soul.
Christian Spirituality is how we walk out our faith in Christ Jesus. Covering every aspect of our lives—thoughts, words and deeds—our spirituality includes our daily activities, our attitudes toward work and the way we treat others, as well as our spiritual practices. Above all relational, it encompasses our relationship with God, others and ourselves. Christian spirituality is “the character of our actual, lived relationship with God through the Spirit of Christ, as describing our practice of relationship with Christ.”1
Because people mean a wide variety of things by the popular term “spirituality”—most of which derive from Eastern religions, animism or New Age—I prefer the term Christian Spiritual Formation. “Formation” emphasizes the need for growth. As John Bunyan powerfully describes in his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, salvation is the starting line of the Christian life, not the place to camp out the remainder of our days. Believers are called to radical transformation, thus Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “(1) a process (2) of being conformed (3) to the image of Christ (4) for the sake of others.”2
Christian spiritual formation includes our spiritual disciplines as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). They never earn us merit (Eph 2:5-11), but we are called to “train” (1 Tim 4:7) and “make every effort” (2 Pet 1:5) as we mature.3 Much of our deepest growth, however, comes through embracing the painful things in life (James 1:2-4; Rom 5:3-5).4
“Spiritual Theology” is my favorite term for Christian spirituality because our formation as believers can never be separated from our faith. Indeed, the subject of our faith is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—who share perfect love with each other and invite us to participate in their intimate relationship (John 14-17). As we do so, we will be transformed from “glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18) as we are shaped ever more into Christ’s image (Rom 8:29).
1 Evan B. Howard, The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Brazos Press, 2008), 16.
2 M. Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 15.
3 Books on spiritual disciplines abound today, but one of the best is still Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (Harper & Row, 1988).4 See Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Sacrament of the Present Moment (HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).
We can learn so much about our Creator by contemplating his work, especially the beauty of nature and glory of the universe.
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge."
From the early centuries of the Church, Christians have referred to this as Reading the Book of Nature. As we ponder creation—its order, its beauty, its grandeur, its intricacies—we learn about God’s very nature. Romans 1:20 declares, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”
Such reading of the Book of Nature goes hand-in-hand with reading Scripture. The truths we see in God’s Word are illustrated in brilliant color in his Creation. What we have read in words on the page come alive in new ways as we see them displayed across the sky.
Let us join with believers over the centuries in reading God’s self-revelation writ large in the heavens, the stars, the mountains and oceans!
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens. . . .
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
From the first pages of Genesis, Scripture talks about walking with God. Enoch walked with God so closely that one day he simply walked with his Maker right into eternity. As Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and so many others traveled on literal dirt roads, they were also making a spiritual voyage.
Repeatedly the Psalms talk about our relationship with the Lord as our walk with him, our steps, or following the Lord’s path. Psalm 1:1 begins the whole Psalter with the words: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (KJV). Psalm 119:105 declares: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (KVJ). One of my favorite passages is Psalm 25:4-5:
Show me you paths, O Lord;
teach me your trails.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God who helps me;
daily I wait on you.
There are so many parallels between a physical journey and our spiritual journey. As someone who loves to hike and do wilderness backpacking, I've seen these parallels for years. I'm hoping to share a few of these thoughts with others in my series on Wilderness Hiking and Spiritual Growth.
Since the early centuries of the church, Christians have followed a church calendar, centered on the life of Christ. It begins with Advent, the four weeks of anticipation and inner preparation for Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Christmas is celebrated for twelve days, leading to Epiphany that commemorates Jesus’ appearance/manifestation to the Gentiles as he is revealed to the magi.
After some weeks of “ordinary time,” the church calendar moves into Lent, the 40 days (plus Sundays) of repentance and spiritual renewal leading up to Holy Week—Jesus’ triumphal entry, Last Supper, betrayal, trial, Passion, Death, Burial and then Resurrection. Easter on the church calendar lasts for seven weeks, not just one morning. Those seven weeks of genuine triumph lead up to Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit. The following week is Trinity Sunday and the beginning of “ordinary time” again, lasting until Advent and the beginning of a new cycle.
Such are the major seasons of the church year. Within that framework, the liturgical calendar follows Christ’s life, setting aside given Sundays to focus on Jesus’ baptism, his transfiguration, and the like. Thus, the church calendar seeks to commemorate each year the major events of Salvation History. It welcomes us to walk with Jesus throughout the year!