The Wilderness Experience
The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry. Scripture tells us that Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This period is actually forty-six days because the six Sundays between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part of the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.
Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time when new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.
Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to us and the Church today? Clearly, this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to his loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.
What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would make us believe that such incidents should not occur, bringing condemnation to those who go through them because they lack faith. Jesus had enough faith, but he experienced the wilderness.
If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise.
We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.
Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devoting ourselves more to God and His Word.
What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him, or by what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival appeals to many people. They feel that they must make up ahead of time, the fun they will be losing.
Too often Lenten promises are like New Year’s resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we feel under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove himself to us if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.
It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to him early and often?
Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking him what he would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking his will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.
4 responses to “The Season of Lent”
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Reblogged this on For the Worshipper and commented:
A wonderful perspective on Lent.
Pastor, What did the Incarnate Son of God lack that He “required preparation” to begin His ministry on earth?
He did not lack righteousness, yet he asked John the Baptist to baptize Him. This set an example for us. He also set an example of how to do ministry, relying fully on God the Father rather than oneself. He was fully God but He emptied Himself as you remember (Philipians 2:5-11).
“Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. After He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:8-9)
Thank you for your question. It was a good one. I do not have the space to fully respond here.
It has been said that scripture may provide some interesting footnotes on the commentaries and even on our theology. There is much to ponder here.