Lent is for Catholics.
At least that’s what I grew up thinking. Raised a devout southern baptist, I knew nothing of the tradition or the value to be found in fasting and personal sacrifice in general, really.
In my adult life I may have tried to “observe” lent once or twice. But rarely as a result of prayerful consideration…both of its meaning and of what I chose to give up. The few occasions I “succeeded” were when I would pick something like “not eating McDonald’s for forty days.” Well what kind of sacrifice is that? It’s March and I can honestly say the last time I ate at Mc’Ds was on October 7th when I told my son he could pick anywhere he wanted to eat for his birthday and (gasp,) we found ourselves under the golden arches of a gallbladder attack.
But coming off two years of intense sacrifice I wanted to delve deeper into the idea of why a loving God would allow and at its inception, require, sacrifice. I approached it with the inkling that it could only be because He knows it is for our own good. I am praying now that I can adequately convey the connections I have made through my experience, prayer and studies. As my beloved baptist preacher used to pray before he launched into every single sermon…”Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) Here goes…
Etymology fascinates me. In this case I dug deeper into the use of the term “free-will” offering in Leviticus. It’s the only offering that I could find in the old testament where it was acceptable to offer a less than spotless sacrifice. (Lev. 22:23) I began to question why God made an allowance for imperfection. A blemished sacrifice was inadequate to provide justification to the Lord in fulfilling a vow. But a “free-will” sacrifice was different. Free will implies that it is given freely…the giver does so out of the spontaneity of good that overflows when you are affectionate toward the recipient. In Mosaic law it was after the obligatory sacrifices for justification to God had been met, He would accept your heartfelt, while albeit sometimes flawed offerings in addition. These were the ones that the Israelites gave in gratitude for God being with them and sparing them from the hands of their enemies for example. I like to think of them as “praise offerings.”
Now, I’m admittedly not a biblical scholar. But I do believe God’s word is given to us for the purpose of study and we are told to seek and we shall find. So I am going to assert that this is the idea of tithes and offerings. Tithes are what rightly belong to him…an offering is what happens when you give more than what is required or specified.
I say all of this because I feel understanding the difference between the two is the foundation for the New Testament application. And oh my goodness, this is what has me typing as fast as my little fingers can go.
Christ is the sacrifice that met the requirement…so He accepts our offering. He looks at our brokenness and messy selves offered to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and He says IT IS GOOD!
The sacrifices we are called to make are virtually all “free- will.” In His amazing sovereignty he knew that we are fallen as humanity…there is no way that any sacrifice we could make would be any better than flawed. But He already made an allowance for that. Christ died as the spotless, perfect sacrifice and met the requirement so that anything we could offer would be considered a free will offering and acceptable. He did for us what we are powerless to do for ourselves. For those of us with past destructive behaviors, selfish desires, misguided and misplaced hopes, etc., there are some “amens” going up! Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we and all baggage we lay on the altar, are an acceptable sacrifice He chooses to bless. This excites me!
In light of that we are called to share in His suffering…”do this in remembrance of me”. Which brings me back to Lent…the time of observance, prayer, remembrance and sacrifice in preparation for Easter. The idea of fasting should be sacrificial. It is not a sacrifice if its easily surrendered. A sacrifice by definition, means to lay down or give up something of value because you deem the recipient of your gesture to be worth more. But more than that…it is laid down with the expectation of nothing in return. And the only reason why anyone would do such a thing is when motivated by a depth of love outside ordinary experience.
Realistically most Americans have never truly tasted hunger. At least not the kind that ravishes the body to the point of alteration. Having suffered from an eating disorder, I have seen the effects of starvation. That was not, however, perspective gleaned by something God ordained. But instead as a byproduct of sin. Nevertheless, it is a glimpse at depravity that I can tell you brought me to my knees. As depravity should. Hunger and thirst exist to remind us of our basic needs. I think it is unfortunate that most of us never allow ourselves to be denied long enough to develop a true hunger and thirst. And I don’t just mean for food and water. It isn’t until you have earnest want that you truly appreciate the satisfaction of a need being met. Kind of like the obligatory blessing said by most families before a meal. It is far less heartfelt than the utterances of the famished when they are three bites into the first sustenance they’ve had in quite some time. Why?
Want (depravity) begets gratefulness.
So this is where I land…Lent is not just for Catholics.
They probably started it because they have a propensity for rituals and traditions. But hallelujah I believe we all serve the same God who is worthy to be praised…in many different ways.
So what would you be willing to give up in order to say thank you to the author of the greatest story ever told? What am I willing to deny myself so I might have a better understanding of the heart behind the One who gave all so that my inability to provide a spotless sacrifice wouldn’t keep me from eternal glory.
Personally, the Lord is placing on my heart several things and areas that need to be addressed. Which is why I will make this last petition…
Consider Lent as equally about with what we fill our lives, as what we deny ourselves.
If you’ve ever tried to give up a bad habit, you know that you cannot fully succeed just by abstaining from it. You must replace that destructive behavior with an edifying one. Once you’ve identified what it is that needs to be sacrificed, you must be intentional about with what you will fill that empty space. If you’ve hung in there with me this far just hoping to get some sort of idea or suggestion of what to give up for Lent, you’re going to be disappointed. The specifics are between you and the Lord. The sacrifice modeled by Jesus is that the offering should cost you something and someone else should gain from it. But I hope you will grasp that the whole purpose of Lent is self denial in order to gain more of Him. And ultimately it isn’t just for a forty day season…but a lifetime of “praise offerings!”
Less of me, more of Him. Why have I not discovered the beauty of this sooner?!
We were bought at an astronomical price with a no refunds, exchanges or substitutions policy firmly established! That can only be motivated by one thing…love!! How great the sacrifice of a spotless lamb so that we can have the privilege of hunger and thirst.
May we all be consumed with a righteous hunger and thirst so that we might be satisfied by the coming fulfillment.