Last summer when Edith and I were in Maui we took a day trip on the road to Hana. It is a beautiful fifty three mile trip that takes a full day. The road is narrow and windy. It’s a daunting trip with hairpin turns, single-lane bridges, and hills. There were stops all along the way with gorgeous scenery. Each time we thought it couldn’t be more beautiful, around the corner we saw another spectacular site. One of my favorite stops was a botanical garden called the Garden of Eden. It was a beautiful park with all sorts of tropical plants. We saw mango trees, bananas trees, and avocados, we saw tall bamboo and all kinds of glorious flowers in bloom. Many of these were things we had never seen before, and we joyfully took it all in. We saw all kinds of exotic birds, magnificent waterfalls and we had a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Later we came to a black sand beach, and then a beach with pink sand. We saw craggy rock formations with the waves buffeting and shaping the stones. We saw crazy surfers out near those rocks which scared the life out of us! We saw road side stands with fruit and vegetables, not to mention the bluest sky imaginable.
For me, part of the trip was the journey, and seeing a new place I had never seen before. As we rode along the highway, taking in all the sights around us, paying careful attention to the road when necessary, we came behind a truck on its way to the little town of Hana, where the road essentially ends. It occurred to me that while this was an extravagant trip for us, for others, this was simply a routine route between point A and point B. I wondered if they daily took time to recognize the beauty all around them, or was it simply the route they had to take. In trying to reach their destination did they miss out on the journey?
Lent is a journey, and yet, so often we go through it in such a way that we miss the journey as we focus only on the destination. There is much to be learned along our Lenten journey, and what you see and find may be very different from what I see and find. If we really make the time to explore these forty days of Lent, imagine what Jesus could do in our lives. Even more importantly, maybe we need to see the season of Lent as a miniature of our life of faith. It’s a new beginning.
Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Co 5:17–20). The goal of Lent is that we become new creations in Jesus, not just for forty days, but forever.
I started thinking about this from a conversation I had with a Christian friend who was giving up beer for Lent. I suggested that rather than give something up, why not take something up, like feeding homeless people or volunteering in the local school, something that would be incarnational as we live out the love of Jesus. It’s relatively easy to give up stuff that really, in the end, benefits us anyway. How often have we heard people say they are giving up chocolate for Lent because, after all, I need to lose some weight anyways. And tell me again, how does that serve Jesus? She understood what I was implying and suggested that maybe in future years that would be a consideration. This year it was all about the beer!
My friend then asked me where in the Bible we find Lent. I was a little stumped at first and had to think. It’s really not in the Bible per se. We can certainly find the whole forty days theme in there, and Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, but technically, Lent is not really Scriptural. It is a man-made penitential season to prepare us to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s an opportunity for us to live with discipline and perhaps self-sacrifice, and spend time in the Word and in worship. It occurred to me, as the conversation went on, wait a minute, as Christians aren’t we called to daily discipleship? Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus, whose life was one of self-sacrifice? Are we to reserve our reading of God’s Word until Lent? Are we more blessed if we worship extra in this season? Now, please don’t misconstrue my thought here. I love the season of Lent. It’s really one of my favorite seasons in the Church. However, why set aside forty days for something that Jesus calls us to everyday?
We go through this journey of Lent, focused on the destination of Easter, and we feel great if we make four out of six midweek worship services and Maundy Thursday, and maybe even Good Friday. The truth is, I don’t believe God is keeping score. Lent is a microcosm of our journey of faith. We should be living out these values every day. We should live with penitential hearts every day. I don’t know about you, but I need God’s full and free forgiveness every day, not only during Lent. I encourage you to take advantage of all the worship opportunities that your congregation affords during Lent, but I also encourage you to actively worship beyond Lent. In fact, I encourage you to spend time in devotions during Lent, but I also encourage you to spend time in devotions the other three hundred plus days in the year. Lent surely is a time for prayer, but really, when isn’t it a time for prayer?
It didn’t take us long in the parenting process to teach our children the value of a clean room. I didn’t only tell my children to clean their rooms in the weeks preceding Christmas. It was an expectation we placed on them from the time they were able to keep their bedroom clean. It didn’t always happen that way, and there were “seasons” along the way when they had to be reminded. Here’s my point: often what we promote at Lent is how we should be living anyway as the redeemed people of Jesus. Sure, it’s a wonderful time for us to cultivate the spiritual disciplines and holy habits. However, it shouldn’t end once the season is over. Don’t let the journey end at Easter. Let Easter be a celebration along the way as we continue to discover the twists and turns, the beauty and majesty of our faith journey with Jesus.
With you on the journey,