Thursday, March 2, 2017

Whom have I in heaven but you?

Copyright: stanslavov / 123RF Stock Photo
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever – Psalm 73:25-26
Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent, a six-week season that leads up to Easter. While not a traditional part of Baptist life, many Baptists have begun to take a serious look at this season which has been observed by some Christian groups for centuries. For instance, for the last few years I have attempted to give something up for Lent. I admit that I am not always good at this. I fail as often as I succeed. I’m more ok with that than you’d think. Lent is one of those times in which attention to our failures may be as helpful achieving our goals. The point of the season, after all, isn’t to accumulate gold stars for how well we’ve done but to practice recognizing our need for God.

The tradition of giving something up for Lent is connected to the spiritual discipline of fasting and can be traced back to the early days of the church. In his book, Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross notes that early Christians fasted on the Friday and Saturday before Easter as a way of remembering both Christ’s death and entombment. Later the fast stretched to include all of Holy Week. By the Council of Nicea in 325, some churches had extended such observances to a forty-day period of fasting and repentance much like the modern Lenten season.

In fasting, a person temporarily refrains from something good to make room in one’s life for something better, namely, the moving of God’s Spirit. For instance, a person refrains from eating for a period to dedicate the time normally given to meals to the seeking of God in prayer. For a more modern twist, a person might choose to give up TV, Facebook, an hour of sleep, or some other activity for the very same reason - to fill that time up with the pursuit of God's presence.

In the process of fasting, we are reminded of our dependence upon God and our freedom from dependence upon anything else. Most of the things in our life are fine in themselves. In fact, they are gifts from God, but it is amazing how we can become consumed by these things without even realizing it. We think we can live without them if we so choose, but of course, we rarely get around to trying. Fasting during Lent is a time to try. Giving up a favorite activity or a favorite thing for Lent is a way of allowing one’s spirit to remember, "I may enjoy these things, but I do not need them. They are not my master. God, alone, is my portion."

The inward discovery that all we need is God should lead to changes in outward behavior. Discovering that God is enough leads us toward greater generosity. In giving something up we discover that we can also give something away. For example, if you have a Starbucks a day habit that you lay aside for forty days, that’s a decent chunk of change you’ll have come Easter morning. What will you choose to do with the extra money? One possibility is to give it away to those who need not practice fasting because their lives are already an exercise in need.

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Online Lenten Devotionals
  1. Bible Gateway is providing three Lenten devotionals straight to your inbox, including one from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and another from Dallas Willard. 
  2. Lent for Everyone is a Lenten Devotional available on the YouVersion app/webpage written by one of my favorite scholars, N.T. Wright. If you search the YouVersion site, you’ll find Lenten devotionals by a number of other famous authors, scholars, and ministries (Tim Keller, Max Lucado, etc).