Today is Ash Wednesday.
This is the start of the lent. According to Wikipedia “The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Everything about this paragraph is an anathema to our modern understanding of Christianity. It is an interesting gut check to see how the traditional penitential preparation fits in our grace based world view. We are saved by the blood, there is no more need for guilt, shame, law, or penitence.
But maybe we are missing something dramatic in our spiritual diet by missing out on some of the vegetables of the Christian Faith. A friend of mine recently took on a juice fast, and as he did, he noticed some remarkable things occur within his body. The chicken nuggets and soda that were part of his daily diet, now had a fowl stench, and he awoke a new craving for things healthy and fresh.
For this season of Lent I am leaning into this penitential preparation. I have decided to add a prayer exercise, a fast, and self denial. And my hope is that in 40 days, as I celebrate Easter, I will have awoken a fresh hunger and awareness to the Holy Spirit and the things of God.
My Prayer Exercise: The Prayer of Examine
The prayer of examine is an ancient practice where you recount the activities of the day and reflect upon where you noticed God showing up, where you ignored the things of God, and in this Lenten case, where I have sinned intentionally or through omission. Normally this is a light hearted invitation to sharpen our senses towards the Holy Spirit, but because it is Lent, I look forward to become even more aware of my sin, take it seriously, recognize my overwhelming need for Christ, and work like crazy to limit its power and impact in my life and in the lives of those around me.
A Fast: See You Later Sugar!
I know giving up sugar and sweets is the number one fast of Lent, so why not join the crowd. I do long to crave the healthy things of life and to not be such a slave to sugar and the instant high it seems to offer. No matter what the fast is, it is an intentional sacrifice that I will be confronted with for the entire 40 days and will provide me an opportunity to self-discipline and focused prayer.
Self Denial: The Dawn Will Once Again Be My Friend
The more and more I have read about Lent the theme of self sacrifice comes up over and over. And because there is nothing my body desires that I deprive it of, then sleep is what is getting the axe this Lent. I often feel like God is inviting me into a discipline of early morning devotions, and I often discount that legalistic call in favor of praying whenever I want. But for this Lenten season, sleep is the focus of my self discipline. As I die to sleep and embrace the quiet of the morning, I am anticipating meeting Jesus in a fresh way. The natural fatigue that will follow this discipline will hopefully force me into a more sustainable rhythm with my evenings.
This discipline of self denial, together with my fasting and prayer exercise will beat my body into submission. For my spirit has always been willing, but my flesh is so, so weak. For this season I plan to flip the script and see what happens when I lean into the Spirit’s leading and awaken my diet to these foreign disciplines.
This is what I am leaning into this Lenten season. What will you be doing for penitential preparation? Or does that phrase smell too much like the dark ages for you? Is there a place to embrace freedom and grace and intentionally die to it for season for spiritual discipline?