Messages for Lent: Ian Lowe
Week 3: 40 Days of Sacrifice?
For almost 2,000 years, Christians have set aside time for self-examination and repentance during the weeks before Easter. Early church fathers and the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) observed days of fasting from a few days to 40 days. It was Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604) who established the 40-day season between Ash Wednesday and Easter that many 21st-century Christians observe.
I confess that I have never really paid much attention to this Lent season, instead, I have focused on Good Friday and the joyous celebration of our Risen Saviour at Easter. Nothing wrong with that of course, but many Christians still view Lent as an opportunity to refocus their attention on God’s love for us - so great a love that he sent his son to die for our sins. Giving up something we love - food or an activity - to remind us of God’s sacrificial love can really be beneficial to our spiritual growth; especially if we replace it with a spiritual discipline such as Bible reading, prayer, or fasting. During Lent, we can evaluate our spiritual health - how well the life of the Risen Christ is being manifest in us.
(2 Corinthians 13:5) “Keep examining yourselves to see whether you are continuing in the faith. Test yourselves! You know, don't you, that Jesus the Messiah lives in you?”
Could it be that we are failing the test? I also see the danger of setting aside certain days for self-examination and repentance. Even good spiritual practice can drift into a hollow ritual and if we are not careful it can easily lead to hypocrisy. We can develop an attitude that falls into a ‘Sunday and non-Sunday’ mind-set, falling into the sin Jesus exposed in the Pharisees.
(Matthew 15:8-9 NIV) “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain”
The Sacrifice That Pleases God
Many Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, remind us that physical sacrifices are only valuable if they’re given from a wholly devoted heart.
The prophet Samuel told King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Later David also wrote, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it…The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit…a broken and humbled heart.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
The Old Testament prophets consistently spoke out against sacrifices that were futile attempts to cover sinful actions. Jesus also criticized the religious leaders for offering sacrifices that meant nothing (Matthew 23:23-25). The same could be said of any spiritual actions we do for the wrong reason, whether it be Sunday morning worship, small-group Bible study, volunteer work, or personal devotional time.
Another danger of setting aside special times of sacrifice is our tendency to ignore these practices the rest of the year. In Luke 9:23 (NLT), Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” It’s the daily-ness of sacrifice that most interests God and best demonstrates our commitment to him - a 365 day devotion to “act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly before God.” (Micah 6:8)
The Daily-ness of Sacrifice
When Paul told the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, I think he had in mind the daily-ness of sacrifice.
(Romans 12:1-2) My commitment to Jesus should involve the following:
Daily recognition of the price Jesus paid for my sins and my
inability to meet God’s standard of righteousness.
Daily commitment to rely more on the Holy Spirit and less
Daily reflection on the endless supply of God’s mercy and grace.
Daily gratitude for the way he allows me to be his hands and
feet to a hurting generation.
Motivation and intention is everything
David said the one thing he desired was spending time in God’s presence (Psalm 27:4).
He also spoke of fulfilling his vows daily to the Lord. (Psalm 61:8).
Another psalmist wrote that he thirsted for God like a deer thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1-2). Again, there is the daily-ness factor. After all, how many times a day will a deer look for water?
Ideas to Foster a Lent Lifestyle
Here are a few ways we can turn this 40-day mindset into a 365-day spiritual life:
Attend weekly worship services at Church.
Join a Life Group for fellowship for pastoral care and spiritual encouragement.
Establish a daily bible reading and prayer routine.
We can never lose sight of the essence of the Easter message being that new life is available to every person because of the redemption provided by Jesus through his death, burial and resurrection. If we have accepted Jesus as Saviour, we are new creations. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Paul told the Galatian churches, “The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (MSG Galatians 2:20)
If we spend these weeks before Easter, (maybe like me for the first time), reflecting on our spiritual heritage; it will help our new life become more vibrant both to ourselves and to others, all year-round. In this we honour the Risen Christ who gave us this life.
(1 Samuel 15:22) Samuel said, “Does the LORD delight as much in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams”.