Decades ago, Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, wrote,
Perhaps somewhere in the subterranean chambers of your life you have heard the call to deeper, fuller living…you have caught glimpses, hints of something more than you have known. Inwardly you long to launch out into the deep.
Observing Lent is about launching into the deep; not as legalism or as a means to win God’s favor but as way to discover anew freedom in what Christ has done for the whole world. It’s an opportunity to comprehend again, relationship with God as a gift. It’s an invitation to intentionally seek the Lord through particular practices for 40 days.Lent isn't about winning God’s favor, but a way to discover new freedom in what Christ has done. Click To Tweet
The Deep Call of Giving Up
Psalm 42:7 says “deep calls to deep.” So, as we join the Spirit on this journey, we often experience that depth–as a re-awakening, or as a new awareness of our relationship with the Lord, of His presence in our neighbourhoods and in our lives despite the suffering, despair and desperation all around us… In our Lent practices, we hear –and voice– a call from the depths to the depths.
And in those depths, we remember and embody again (or for the first time) what Christ ‘gave up’ for us- his sacrifice and suffering on our behalf. What did Jesus give up? Everything– heaven’s glory, perfection, Triune communion and holiness;
Everything- His power, His equality with God (Phil.2) …His life. What are we willing to give up?
So for the 40 days before Easter–the length of time that Jesus was in the desert fasting; that Noah and the animals were in the ark; that Moses and the people were in the wilderness… we focus on what Jesus gave up for us by ‘giving up’ something. Some people give up a favorite food, habit (watching TV, playing computer games); Others give their time and/or resources for the sake of the other… Whatever our practices of disengagement or engagement, the point, I believe, is that we remember that Jesus suffered and for a purpose. Jesus suffered, gave His life to set us all free, to set all of us free: red and yellow, black and white, rich or poor, African or American, Syrian or First Nations– do we get that?!!
Free from what? Well, the immediate Christian answer is ‘from sin and death’ — but that means from prejudice, shortsightedness, self-centeredness, revenge and retaliation, greed and gluttony, envy, gossip, pride and …Our Lenten practices remind us that Jesus suffered & died for a purpose. Click To Tweet
The Parable of the Birds and a Net
The following story has helped me (and I suspect others) think about the significance of ‘giving up’ for the sake of freedom. It was originally told in The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis.
A long time ago in a faraway land, two fowlers went up to a mountain to spread their nets to catch some birds, for that is what fowlers do. Carefully they set their nets and when they came back a few hours later their nets were filled with doves! They were so excited! It was a great catch they could tell even as they continued to the top of the mountain. However, when they got closer, they realized that the birds were all very scrawny and that no one would want to buy them at the market.
The one fowler was very discouraged but the other said, “Don’t worry—we can feed them bread crumbs and seeds and soon they will be fat enough.” So they took the birds home and each day they fed them grains and bread crumbs. And each day the birds devoured their food quickly enjoying the complimentary banquet. All except one that is. It refused to eat. As the others got nice and plump, it got thinner and thinner. And each day it tried to wiggle its way out of one of the holes in the net. Even though the food looked so tasty and it was so very hungry, it knew that it would never be able to get free if it ate the food so each day, it exercised great self-control and discipline, and focused on its greater need and goal, freedom. Finally the day came, when the fowlers were ready to take the birds to market. But on that very day, the bird that had refused to eat, had become so thin that is was finally able to squeeze through the net and fly away. It was free! It had given up its food for many days but through this sacrifice it had found freedom…
This Lent, let’s remember what our freedom cost and be free to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.