By Mark D. Roberts
That is why the LORD says,
"Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don't tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead."
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.
In the midst of Lent, I want to reflect a bit on the spiritual reality of which Lent is an expression.
I should say at the outset that I was not raised in a Christian culture that recognized Lent. Since there is no biblical imperative concerning this season, Christians are free to acknowledge Lent or not, guided by their churches and theological traditions. Moreover, those of us who practice Lent are free to do that which seems most edifying. Many Christians engage in some sort of Lenten fast, a giving up of something in order to focus more intentionally upon the Lord. Others take on an additional discipline in Lent, perhaps joining a Lenten Bible study or an outreach ministry that feeds the hungry. (For more information about Lent and its potential for your life, see my series: How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God.)
Lent is most of all a season of preparation, a time in which we get ready for a deeper and truer experience of Good Friday and Easter. In Lent, we reflect upon our need for God and his salvation. It's a time to remember, as my mentor Lloyd Ogilvie has often said, "We have a great need for God, and a great God for our need."
Lent is a time for us to respond to God's call to Israel through the prophet Joel: "Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don't tear your clothing in grief, but tear your hearts instead" (2:12). We return to God, not in the fear that he will wipe us out, but in the confidence that God is "merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry, and filled with unfailing love" (2:13).
The point of Lent is not what we do, but who God is. Lent is not primarily a matter of giving something up or taking on something new. Rather, it is a time to focus on God and his mercy, and, in light of this truth, to acknowledge our need for God and his mercy.
No matter what you do -- or do not do -- during the six weeks leading up to Easter, may this Lenten season be a time of recognition and preparation. May you be reminded of your great need for God and the fact that there is a great God for your needs.
Questions for Reflection
Did you grow up with any experience or impression of Lent? If you have recognized Lent, what have you done? Has Lent helped you to grow in your relationship with God? Why or why not?
Gracious and merciful God, I thank you for a special time of year that reminds me of how much I need you and how available you are for my need.
Help me, dear Lord, to make the days until Easter a time of turning to you, opening my heart to you, confessing my sin to you, and relying on your grace. Help me not to get caught up in the details of what I give up and what I take on. Rather, may these be signposts that point me to you and a deeper relationship with you.
How true it is, Lord, that I have a great need for you. And how much truer that you are a great God for my need! All praise be to you! In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen!
Mark D. Roberts, as Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, is an advisor and frequent contributor to TheHighCalling.org. A Presbyterian pastor, Mark earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He has written six books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005). He blogs daily at www.markdroberts.com, and the meditations he writes for The High Calling are featured on Wednesdays at the Evangelical Portal and Mainline Protestant Portal.