Lent runs from March 2 to April 16th to Maundy Thursday for a total of 46 days. But Sundays are not counted in Lent, and neither are Good Friday or Holy Saturday. So, there are 40 days in Lent and this period is intended to prepare us for Easter. It embodies the idea of cleansing and disciplining the mind and body so that we can more easily receive and follow the Christ ideas. Lent clarifies our vision: the vision of ourselves, the vision of our being a Child of God, the vision of how our human and spiritual natures cohabitate to form who we are.
These two natures at times are in conflict. Our ego wants to take charge of our human and worldly actions and thought, while our Christ nature provides beneficial guidance and spiritual salvation.
I am reminded of that Native American fable of two wolves fighting within us, one good and one evil. The wolf that wins is the one we feed. Nurturing or depriving nurture determines which disposition is strengthened or weakened. The nature within us that we feed, or nourish with our attention and mental energy, is the nature that we express and allow to control us. The nature we deny sustenance lessens and diminishes.
Our focus determines how we see spiritually, either clearly or through a clouded glass. There are techniques for re-routing our thoughts before they turn into spiritually blinding errant actions and words. The Bible tells us in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”
Choosing different thoughts and changing our focus helps divert attention and change the way our argument between our spiritual and worldly natures progress within us. Having powerful one-word prayers ready can help us. Light, Christ, Jesus, Love, Peace… these thoughts can alter what is in our heads.
God does this for us at times. We may be struggling over an inner issue and Spirit sends us thoughts, or people come into our lives and share new ideas with us. If we reject those attempts, it seems like Spirit escalates its efforts to re-route our thinking until we require that Cosmic 2x4.
Although Lent is not Biblical, since the fourth century it has been recognized as an important spiritual practice. It was based upon the 40 days that Jesus was tempted in the desert. Like Advent, also not Biblical, we use these times as preparation for major spiritual events. We can use them to clarify our focus, to align our minds and attune our hearts to Christ.
One of the ways people have honored Lent over the centuries has been through fasting. Praying and fasting have been long honored means of taking our thoughts away from the outer physical world and focusing on the inner spiritual.
Sometimes illness or near-death experiences or close calls are enough for us to change the way we have been behaving and thinking and we start to see things in a new light and from a new perspective.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 gives us this insight: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
It is not the lower human powers that help us tame our thoughts or temper the worlds influence over us; it is the power of God and our spiritual nature as directed by Christ that help us overcome our destructive and dark tendencies.
The single most powerful means for tapping into those mighty spiritual weapons that destroy the strongholds of darkness is by becoming still and opening to the message of God through prayer, contemplation, and meditation. In the stillness of God we are given the awareness of what is blocking us from expressing the fullness of Christ. Through God’s inner still small voice we can come to understand what qualities we need to lovingly release so that we can know God more completely.
Currently, we are within the 40 days of Lent, which leads us to Palm Sunday and culminates in Easter Sunday. It is customary during Lent to ‘give up’ some things … bread, meat, or other things as symbols of our dedication to the path of Christ.
Certainly, this is of value as it helps us to focus our minds and hearts on today. But what we discover is that the attitude of Lent can become a part of our ongoing daily routine; it becomes Lent for Life – especially if what we are giving up is part of the Evil Wolf mindset.
Today, if we recognize Lent at all, the idea has evolved into less strenuous means of self-denial, such as giving up drinking or eating meat or bread for 40 days. Some people are drawn to Lent on a grander scale and incorporate prayer and fasting into the Lenten season.
Prayer is straight forward. We are instructed to: Be still and know that I am God. Perhaps for Lent, if we don’t already have time set aside for prayer, we can set aside five minutes a day and just be still and sit in the silence with God. If we pray daily, perhaps we could consider giving five more minutes a day.
What about fasting? Praying and fasting are methods of communing with God. Fasting and feasting are opposites but are linked in this process. As we fast in one area, we can fill ourselves in another. For instance, if we give up bread for Lent we can feast on vegetables and other foods. If we literally fast from all foods for days at a time, we feast on liquids.
We can also think outside the box of what fasting can be. Rather than giving up food, how about if we give up something else? So how about we restrict our television watching or newspaper reading and spend that time doing something nice for our spouse or in prayer?
Fasting is another way of saying “Let go and let God.” So why not fast from the idea that we can do it all ourselves, that we need no help? Instead, we can feast on the knowledge that God is our constant companion and source of all good.
We could fast from the notion that any person or nation can stand in the way of God’s will and good for humankind. We can fast from our fears and doubts and feast on the idea that Christ’s power is surrounding us right now. I like to share the summary from Phil Ressler’s book, Forty Things to Give Up for Lent. It is a good starting point toward a thoughtful Lent.
One last thing about fasting: it is not meant as a public display. In Matthew 6:18, Christ tells his disciples, “Appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret; and the Father, which sees in secret will reward you openly.” We don’t need to share what we are doing with others, as some sort of badge of honor. This is a spiritual communion. We don’t need to ask someone else what they are doing for Lent.
Lent is a good time to affirm the power of Christ within, which influences our thoughts, actions, words, and attitudes. Each of us is responsible for improving ourselves and our relationship with God. It is through effort and practice that we learn to deny our selfish interests and attend to the impulses of love. As Theodore Parker stated: Self-denial is indispensable to a strong character, and the highest kind comes from a religious stock.
We are a diverse religion, and there is room for all of us. There is no need to judge those who choose differently in their attitudes toward Lent. Should we decide to participate in the Lenten opportunity … great. If not, that is great as well. There is no pressure, there are no requirements; there is nothing we need to do, or can do, to make God love us more. Lent is simply an opportunity to raise our awareness of God’s presence so that we can more adequately prepare our minds and hearts for the fullest expression of Christ in our lives.
Whether we observe Lent or not, I encourage us to celebrate what Lent represents: to look forward to the signs of hope and new life. Christ said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
It takes our greatest spiritual efforts to not respond to darkness with darkness. It is my prayer that we can see clearly that it is in the face of darkness that God’s Love illuminates the brightest. I pray that we align with Christ to dislodge the negative qualities that cling to our lives and cast shadows where our light would otherwise shine. I pray that we embrace the gentle stillness of prayer so that we can see clearly the good that God continually sends to us.
Forty Things to Give Up For Lent (Phil Ressler)
1. Fear of Failure – You don’t succeed without experiencing failure. Just make sure you fail forward.
2. Your Comfort Zone – It’s outside our comfort zones where new discoveries are made.
4. Impatience – God’s timing is the perfect timing.
5. Retirement – As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. Our work is not always tied to a paycheck.
6. People Pleasing – I can’t please everyone anyways. There is only one I need to strive to please.
7. Comparison – I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me.
8. Blame – I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.
9. Guilt – I am loved by Jesus and he has forgiven my sins. Today is a new day and the past is behind.
10. Overcommitment – Do less better and accomplish more.
11. Lack of Counsel – Wise decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
12. Impurity – Live lives pure and without blemish.
13. Entitlement – The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
14. Apathy – Life is too short not to care.
16. Negativity – I will put the best construction on everything when it comes to other people. I will also minimize my contact with people who are negative and toxic.
17. The Spirit of Poverty – Believe that with God there is always more than enough and never a lack.
18. Going Through the Motions – The more you invest yourself, the more you will get back.
19. Complaint – Instead of contributing to the problem, be the solution.
20. The Pursuit of Happiness – God wants something greater and more lasting than happiness. It is called joy.
21. Bitterness – The only person I am hurting by holding on to this is myself.
22. Distraction – Life is filled with distractions that will take our eyes off the prize.
23. Giving up – God never gives up on us.
24. Mediocrity – If you are going to do something, then give it all you got.
26. Busyness – It is a badge of honor to be busy. But that does not always translate to abundance.
27. Loneliness – With Jesus I am never alone. He is with me wherever I go.
29. The Quick Fix – Rarely does true transformation happen overnight.
30. Worry – God is in control and worrying will not help.
31. Idolizing – Don’t assign anyone a standard they cannot live up to.
32. Resistance to Change – Change is certain. It is not if we will change, but how we will change.
33. Pride – Blessed are the humble.
34. Small View of God – Don’t tell God how big your problem is, tell your problem how big your God is.
35. Envy – I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
36. Ungratefulness – You have been blessed in a way greater than you realize.
37. Selfish Ambition – God has a mission for me that is bigger than me.