Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Goal for Lent

Now it might seem odd that I am talking about ‘Post Lent’ as Lent is just about to start, but with every journey, it is important to have your eyes on the finish line. Lent is a time for fasting, but it can be done wrong, and with the wrong focus. So I have been asking myself what the right focus should be. 

While reading through the gospels researching times when Jesus fasted and benefitted from it, in preparation for lent, I read on past the events recorded in Luke’s gospel, one verse. And in this verse I thought it was really interesting to see what had happened to Jesus after His 40 day fast in the desert in which in was tempted to a higher degree than we would ever expect to be tempted. 

Lk 4:14 says that ‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…’. 

What is the link here, and is this something that we can hope for when we part take in lent for the right reasons. 

It is true that the bible never commands us to do lent, and some churches don’t practise it for that reason, but I believe it is also a choice in which to focus on our relationship with Jesus, putting aside all distractions, and things we might even depend on too much. 

Now Jesus fasted to the extreme and ate nothing at all for the 40 days, which can actually be very dangerous for the lifestyle many of us in western culture leads. If I was to not eat for 40 days straight, I would have to stop working out, I’d have to make sure I don’t walk too far each day, and I certainly would have a struggle with work, and concentration towards the end. What it did do for Jesus though was to learn to fully depend on God, His Father in Heaven. The temptations he faced would be a lot easier to resist if he had a belly full of food to help Him focus more. But when you are hungry and have the power to turn a stone to bread, it is very hard not to use that for personal gain. 

He was training Himself in this time, and this should be how 21st Century Christians should see this time too. It is very hard to resist a temptation if you have never had to resist before, and can be really hard to do when it really matters and when you least expect it. 

Jesus then returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He returned with so much more mental and spiritual strength, and had found a new peace in His relationship with His father. He knew even more what His mission was, and the enemy would have a much harder time tempting Him from that path. You could say that He was so much more aware of the Holy Spirit in Him, because He had spent so long listening to Him, and being strengthened.

We celebrate lent now in the lead up to Easter to spend time to focus on the cross, and to strengthen our own relationship with Our Father in heaven. Now some of that language might even be a little much for some, but it is a time to put aside what we know distracts us, or what we think we just can’t go without. Unless its prescribed medication, or a certain diet, or water, we probably can live without it. We don’t realise what we put in the way of our relationship with God until we choose to go without for a while. 

So why don’t we just do 40 straight days like Jesus did? We still have to remember that Sundays are celebrations and feast days, days where we can enjoy these things, and hopefully, after giving them up for a while, be thankful for them instead of taking them for granted. 

There is also the important element of repentance. In the UK, and many other western cultures, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. There a a few times in the bible (OT), where certain people who had been in a time of repentance (they knew they had done wrong, and wanted to show that they were turning to God for forgiveness), would tear their clothes off, dress in a sack-cloth and put ashes on their head. Now we don’t do this, and don’t need to as Jesus has paid the price for our sin, but we can still use this time to focus on how He has done it, and our need for Jesus. 

With so many distractions today, it can be hard to even recognise we need a saviour, that we need to be saved. So taking away these distractions can really help us to be thankful and spend time shaking off that guilt that we put on ourselves. 

So by focussing for so long on God, we end up being thankful for Him, and are so much more open for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, living in His strength and not ours, and therefore we are walking in the power of the Spirit. It then so much easier to be there for people, talk about our experiences and help others follow the same way, essentially teaching them.. Just as Jesus did on His return from the wilderness. 

Living in the power of the Spirit isn't about walking around being ‘holier than thou’ and telling everyone they need to change, or even praying for everything that moves being we are ‘oh so spiritual’ (yes I have come across both types of people), but living in knowledge of who we are in Christ (our identity), knowing that we are loved no matter what, and be open to letting the Holy Spirit work in us. 

If that means we have the courage to pray for someone to be healed then great, or if that means living in a more fruitful personal prayer life then thats amazing. It is through that, that Jesus’ power reaches others. 

I feel like (and I know I might be generalising here) that many Christians think that living in the power of the Spirit means going out, shoving the Gospel down peoples throats, praying in public to an extent that it makes people feel uncomfortable, judging others of their sins without even knowing them (or checking their own eyes for ‘logs’ first), and just lording their faith over others. 

Furthermore, I think that living in the Power of the Spirit is being sure of your relationship with Jesus, being sure of His love for you, and letting that love pour out. Jesus came out of that time in the desert knowing all of this, and He knew exactly who He was talking to when He taught in the synagogues, and did it with the authority He has from God, because He knew His identity, and spend time with Him. 

For lent this year, I am giving up TV and films and Xbox gaming, as I know I get distracted by binge watching Netflix shows. Annie and I did this last year, and it was very fruitful. My prayer is that this year it will be even more fruitful, and that we will come out of it the other side ‘living in the Power of the Spirit’ being more sure of who we are and more open to what God is doing in us.