Denying Grace In Lent

Denying Grace In Lent March 21, 2022

Denying ourselves some simple pleasures for forty day is not easy. Pleasures are important to happiness. Having them and making use of them are part of our lives. They are also part of our routine. Many of us approach Lent with some concerns. Am I say my prayers correctly. I did not read my Devotional today. Did I fail Lent? It is a surprising thought for many of us to consider. Am I denying grace during Lent?

Denying Self

Obviously, any fast we keep is about self-denial. The practice of some people to “add to” their spiritual discipline is denying time to something else. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross to follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Adding another time of prayer, special reading, or setting aside extra resources is a legitimate practice for the forty days of Lent.

Denying grace takes another form. Extreme self-neglect is detrimental to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. The Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol fell under the influence of an extremist priest who convinced him that “heroic” efforts in self-neglect would be a benefit to his spirit. The measures Gogol took resulted in his death. No sane person would want to do this. But how does such thinking begin?

Spiritual Heroics

Gogol, it is said, believed a malady brought about by an evil spirit gave him writer’s block. He burned his unpublished manuscripts and starved himself in the effort to defeat the demon. The advice he was given was the absolutely wrong idea to give such a neurotic personality. But the neurosis is the reason he heeded the advice. People of this description often attempt to find a guide who gives such sadistic advice. Going from bad spiritual advice to quack medicine is just the sort of path one would expect from people like Gogol.

People who first take on fasting for Lent see it as a physical challenge. This person asks, “Can I make it?” The question implies attempting to rely on self-discipline and will-power instead of seeking grace to overcome attachments. The same can be said about people using the fast of Lent to lose weight or eat healthier. The desire is to achieve something. Whereas the desire should be to receive a renewed spiritual perspective.

Successful Failure

Lent cannot be failed anymore than any other season. We can only neglect the seasons of the worship calendar. But we fail ourselves when we attempt to succeed. St. Peter’s boast that he would never deny Jesus resulted in knowing he failed. But he did not fail Jesus. After the Resurrection, Jesus (in Mark) specifically designates Peter as one who needs to hear the good news the women are experiencing. Peter needs grace. His failure was a revelation of his need.

Lent is about preparation. It is not a goal. During Lent we prepare to celebrate Easter. We do not display our accomplishments during the fast. Lent helps us look forward to the time of Easter as a relief from fasting. It is a time when we stop denying self and lay aside the cross. We declare finally, “Christ is Risen!”

 

About C. Don Jones
C. Don Jones is a pastor of Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church in Maryville, TN. Services can be found at thesycamoretree.org You can read more about the author here.

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