Today begins Lent. The season of Lent is a time of renewed repentance and conversion. Our readings hammer home that theme effectively, just slowly read and ponder them.
[Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21]
Some key verses:
"Return to Me [the Lord] with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, with mourning, rend your hearts not your garments"
"We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God."
"When you give alms/fast/pray do not do it for praise, do it secretly for God... Where your treasure is, there your heart will be."
At some point we realize that inputs are not what matter, outcomes do. Do not brush your teeth, clean them. Do not study, learn the material. How often do we go through the motions and not achieve a thing because, well, we are going through the motions?
"Being good" or "being religious" is not the goal; returning to the Lord is. True reconciliation with God in Christ is the goal, not saying sinners prayers or identifying some point when we "got saved." Engaging in a faithful life of discipleship should be our focus, not piling up works, Bible reading, and saying prayers. Now, all those other things are important, but the heart is what matters most. You cannot have your heart centered and fail to do those things, but you can do those things and not have your heart centered. Lent is a time to remind ourselves that outcomes matter. If you are not alive in Christ then all you are doing is pretty much a waste of time (but one does not get alive in Christ by doing nothing--the tricky line we walk).
What is "the one thing" that you must do this Lent to make it possible to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday with integrity?
"Fasting" is the exercise/discipline of emptying. Gluttony and Lust (any sins of appetites and desires) are distractions from God. The focus on what I want makes "me" the Captain of the ship. Lent is a time to clean those out and make room. I re-emphasize what I wrote on recently:
Renounce satan each day. Break every covenant which you have made with the world, the flesh and the devil. Declare them null and void and speak the Name of Jesus over them. Fasting is the process that follows, I use words to clean out my 'soul/heart' and then stop engaging in negative behaviors which poison me. I empty out the noise and distractions, the endless treats for myself, the constant focus on my wants and needs. I do it to get free. I tell food, drink, and "stuff" that Jesus is Lord, not them.
Next, open to God to be filled up! Embrace the Word and the prayer of silence. Listen. Be with God. Be there, open, even if it seems like a waste of time. God is there, it is no waste of time. Your "pointless" prayer (pointless in the sense that it is not pragmatically focused on asking for things and achieving 'results') is a gift of self to God. Thank and praise more (God centered) and nurture a spirit of gratitude and trusting faith. And tell the Lord you love Him, over and over.
On my answer machine I ask callers for two things: your name and your number. I will call you back. So often they leave a long message explaining what they want to talk about. Then they say their phone number so fast (and indistinctly) that I cannot make it out. Or they get cut off because the message is too long. Or they do not give me their number. This is missing the point. I need to know who called and how to get back to them. When I call back, then we can discuss the situation. If you want me to call you back, then focus on what I need to do it: your name and your number, period.
Same with Lent, same with God: we can miss the point. It is a sacred time of forty days, set apart for us to turn from (world, flesh, devil) and to turn to (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). It is a time to make the center the center, to reconcile with God and walk in His ways.
Some say, we do not need Lent, we should do this all the time. Truth be told, humans have a need to alternate intensity in order to improve. It is called periodization. Lent is a period of time to intensify more consciously the repentance of discipleship. There is more to Christianity than that though, and other seasons focus on other things (like joy or hope). Focusing deeply on one thing at a time makes better sense. Multi-tasking is a proven way to do lots of things not so well. Now is the time to get free of sin and death. What has a hold on you? Focus on rooting out and opening up.