Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A New Focus For Lent

The Season of Lent in the Christian Year begins next Wednesday, February 25 on the day called Ash Wednesday. Lent, a forty day period leading up to the celebration of Easter, is a Season during which followers of Christ journey with Jesus toward the Cross and reflect on the love of God. Typically, Lent is also a Season of fasting and repentance during which Christians examine themselves and seek forgiveness for the ways they "fall short of the glory of God." As a part of their fasting, some Christians often "give-up" something during Lent. Favorite foods, pleasureable activities and even bad habits are placed aside for forty days to focus commitments and desires upon Christ.

I'm thinking that maybe this year should be different. Yes, we still might give-up something for Lent, but maybe we should focus more intently this year on what matters most in our lives. Thousands upon thousands of people (hundreds in our own small community) have lost their jobs. They have already "given-up" things for Lent through necessity. Prognosticators forecaste worse days to come before the economy gets better (if it gets better) as the government seeks to "stimulate" jobs and spending. Maybe giving up expensive coffee or chocolate is almost spiritually juvenile this year considering that many of our neighbors are struggling to buy mere staples at the grocery store. Maybe instead of giving-up something we should focus on life's most important things this Lent as a way of renewing our faith and journeying with Jesus.

1. Give thanks to God for relationships - for Christ, for the presence of God's Spirit, for spouses, for parents, for relatives of every sort, for friends, for neighbors, for church family, etc. As our economy weakens and the pleasures of life we once could afford are no more, let us focus on the people in our lives and build on those relationships. We will need each other in the coming days, that's for sure. We will need to rely on each other in ways that my individualistic generation has never had to in the past. We will need each other's love, support, and care. Most of all, we will need the hope and joy that Christ gives us each day. Therefore, build upon your life in Christ - pray fervently, study God's Word deeply, and love passionately the people in your lives.

2. Listen carefully to the call of God - I believe every human being is gifted by God to serve others in His name. We each have a calling to fulfill. In the coming days of crisis, fulfilling our calling will be important. We each have a role to play in helping our neighbors and caring for each other. Thus, this Lent should be a time of asking God, "what is most important for me to do with the gifts and talents you have given me?" When we find the answer, we should waste no time in employing our talents for His service.

3. Love/Help your neighbor - Let's get out of our wooden and brick boxes during Lent and reach out to those in our community who are hurting and struggling. Jesus taught us that loving our neighbor was second only to loving Him. Who needs your help right now? An elderly neighbor? A struggling relative? A neighbor who recently lost their job? A single parent who can barely make ends meet? Take some time to reach out and love with the love of Christ. You have something to share - a favorite recipe, valuable time, an encouraging card, a prayer, an invitation - you have something to offer that will bring someone hope.

There are other important things to think about and do. These are only some of the important things in life. Whatever you to decide to do as an act of faith this Lent, remember to move outward with every step inward so that Christ - His hope, His love, and His salvation - will be shared with all during these trying times.