Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lent: Desert Season to Deepen our Roots

Lake Superior

"But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

Lent is an opportunity to join with Christ in his forty days of fasting and praying in the desert wilderness. Indeed Christians since the Early Church have set apart the forty days leading up to Easter as Lent to remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness and rededicate their lives to the Lord. It is a season to share with Jesus in the forty days’ desert experience of fasting and prayer.

Two Options in the Desert
The desert is dangerous, by definition. In the physical wilderness, we lack our basic needs—let alone our desires—for everyday life. Likewise, a spiritual desert season is one in which we do not have all that we want or need. Often we do not experience God’s love or guidance or comfort as we have in the past. Instead, we feel lonely—as well as emotionally and spiritually dehydrated—and we wonder where the Lord has gone.

The desert is dry and difficult. It demands that we wait and trust. “The desert makes us wait, forces us to look for help beyond our own initiative, plans, or grasp and to long for pure, unmerited, no-conditions grace.”[1]

We can respond to that desert in couple of ways. One option is that we can become impatient and grumble. That is precisely what the Israelites did after Moses led them across the Red Sea during the Exodus. “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” they complained. “Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Exodus 17:3 RNAB). Such ingratitude and grousing only cultivates more impatience and bitterness in our souls.

The other option is for us to put our roots down deeper. When plants go through dry seasons, they put their roots further down, hoping to find more water. So, in desert seasons, we are invited to extend our roots further into the Lord. When the sources of spiritual vitality go dry, it is an opportunity to experience God on a whole new level. Letting go our former ways of experiencing the Lord in our lives, we are free and receptive to relationship with God on a whole new plane.

As we trust in the Lord during the drought, our roots go deeper and deeper into him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 states, "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD. . . . They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.”

Putting our Roots into the Lord
Deep roots do not go down overnight. It takes a whole growing season for stronger roots to be established. Lent can be such a growing season in our lives. In fact, it welcomes us—it beckons you and me—to new spiritual growth.

Joining with Jesus in forty days of fasting and prayer is a powerful way to reorder our priorities and cut through the clutter of all that keeps us from wholeheartedly walking with the Lord. This year, let us take that invitation and put our spiritual roots down deep so that in the months ahead our branches can bear fruit as never before!

[1] Blasé Cupich, as quoted in Give Us this Day (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press), pp. 244-45.

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lent: A Season of Single-mindedness

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

One thing I ask of the Lord,
    this is what I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
-Psalm 27:4

Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow spiritually because it aids us in being single-minded. David declared in Psalm 27 that he was only focused on one thing in life—that is seeking the Lord. Nothing else—being king of Israel and military leader—ultimately counted. David’s focus was on getting to know the Lord better and spending time in God’s presence.

Traditionally the three spiritual disciplines of Lent have been fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Especially the first two help us to gain—and maintain—a single-mindedness during Lent.

Fasting can be done in many ways. It can be restraining from all food for a meal or a day or longer. It can be restraining from specific foods, like candy or deserts, during the 40 days of Lent. It can also be abstaining from Face Book or texting or Tweeting. For some people, turning off technology is much more of a discipline—and therefore offers much more focus—than abstaining from food.

Whenever I’m fasting, I notice how hungry I am during the time of day when I usually eat. My body wants its normal sustenance. Whenever I feel those hunger pangs, I remind myself that I am even more hungry for the Lord. Yes, I’m missing food, but even more, I am longing for the Lord. As I do so, those feelings of hunger channel my heart to a greater single-mindedness on the Lord.

Prayer then directs that single-mindedness toward a fresh pursuit of God in my life. Lent is an opportunity to have special times of prayer beyond our ordinary daily rhythms of prayer. This can be through taking a retreat, attending a weekly Lenten service at church, setting aside a special time during the week for prayer or adding an extra timeout during the day to focus on the Lord.

Especially if we fast from a meal, we can set that time aside for prayer—we partake spiritually instead of physically. Rather than simply getting more done on our “to do” list during that mealtime, we can direct our hunger to the Lord.

Whether through fast or prayer or any other aid, I welcome you to us use this season of Lent to become single-minded. The busyness of life tends to numb us so that we do not realize how hungry we are for God. Lent is a time to get in touch with the deepest longings of our soul.

Take this opportunity to cultivate a fresh single-mindedness toward the Lord, so that you can say with Psalm 27, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; . . . To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent: A Season to Start Over

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

After Christmas and Epiphany, I look forward so much to Lent. Both my wife and I really anticipate these 40+ days leading up to Easter as a unique opportunity to reassess our lives, repent of where we are not right with God and others, and finally redirect our lives toward a resurrection lifestyle that we celebrate at Easter.

Lent is a time to reassess our lives, inside and out. We can step back and take a long, hard look at the reality of our lives to see them as they really are—not what we hope they are, think they are, or try to project them to be. Standing before the Lord we allow ourselves to be totally honest.

Spiritual practices of solitude, silence and going on a retreat give us space to look afresh at our lives. Disciplines of fasting and prayer help give us clarity as we allow the Holy Spirit to point out anything that is not as it should be.

Some of us might recognize that we have become distracted. Life has many distractions, and we easily become preoccupied with work, family crises, and even the weather. While all of these things are important, Jesus calls us to seek him first—with our whole heart—and everything else will be added in due time.

Others of us could discover that we have become apathetic toward God. We don’t like to think of it in those terms, because deep down we love the Lord. Nevertheless, in our day-to-day existence we have become “ho hum” regarding time with God, we have neglected time of reading Scripture, we have lost our passion to pursue him in prayer, and we have begun to stray from our first love. Jesus says in Revelation 2:4 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” If that has happened in our hearts, we need to face it honestly before we can change.

Still others of us realize that we have gone off track in one area of our lives or another. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way,” declares Isaiah 53:6. Indeed, this is true of each and every one of us.

Wherever we have gone astray, become apathetic or simply preoccupied, we need to turn around. This is the meaning of the word “repent”—metanoia, in Greek. It means a change our mind and change our direction.

First we must admit where we have gone astray. Confession is key to making lasting, substantive change in our lives. Often times it is when we acknowledge out loud—to God and another person—where we have sinned, that we are hit with the stark reality of what we have been doing. Precisely here is where we experience a deep sorrow. That Godly sorrow leads to repentance.

Redirection & Restoration
Then we turn around—in thought, word and deed—and go the other direction. Sorrow, repentance and, indeed, the whole season of Lent are always moving toward restoration—reorienting our lives toward God and restoring our relationship with him.

“‘Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
    and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me
    when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’”
    -(Jeremiah 29:12-14)

As Lent begins this year, let us use this time as an opportunity to start over—whether that be in one area of our lives or in many. Let us seek the Lord with our whole heart, knowing that he is just waiting for us. Let us experience the restoration and freedom that he has for our lives.

© 2014 Glenn E. Myers