John Armstrong's weekly Act 3 articles are always thought-provoking, and this week's is no exception. Below I have posted a small portion of his article; you may read the entire thing at Act 3 Ministries. In the long version, he addresses whether Lent is a Biblical practice, the historical background of Lent, and the idea of asceticism. It's a great read, but if you only have time to read a smidge, then read what I've posted below, which is the concluding section of the article. Enjoy!
Lent This Year
Brennan Manning writes: "You see, the older I get, the more I ask myself, 'How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?'" This is what has been dominant in my Lenten reflections this year. My regret is that it took me so long to see this picture of how my life was unfolding before God. It didn't need to be this way, I am now convinced. I don't blame my evangelicalism for this, but I do not think it helped me at this point either.
Lent, this year, is forcing me to take this question to heart on a day-to-day basis. If my goal is to be more like Christ, thus to see him and be satisfied with him, and him be satisfied with me, then this is the question to be asking right now.
What does Lent have to do with this question you ask? Well, it takes me out of my routines and raises all the right questions on an annual basis. There is an admonition that goes this way: "A Lent missed is a year lost from the spiritual life." I do not fully believe that, but I understand why it is stated that way now that I understand Lent better.
Emilie Griffin, in her new Lenten book, Small Surrenders (Paraclete Press: Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008) states this better than I can when she writes:
Lent has been marked out by the church as a time to ask oneself the big questions: What am I doing with my time? What am I doing with my life? How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart? How deep is my charity? How deep is my love? How devoted is my service? How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever" (22)?
Griffin's title captures it for me. As an evangelical I was taught that there was really one great surrender, the one when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. Then there was a "second surrender" when I came into a deeper life of total commitment, or something like that. But "small surrenders" were not part of my framework. I think what I missed was huge now. "Lent," says Griffin, "is a time of benchmarks."
I find Lent to be a very evangelical experience. It reminds me that what I am, what I am becoming, is what allows me to become a "little Christ" and thus to become an expression of his life to others. Am I full of hope? Do I rejoice in suffering? Do I care about the needs in the lives of those around me?
Lent is coming to the question, intentionally and annually: "How am I doing?" An accurate answer will often elude us since sin blinds us even to ourselves. This is where spiritual friendship, godly counsel and the season of Lent all come to our aid. Authentic friendship and a non-showy pursuit of spiritual formation and personal transformation is what it is all about. Ideally, we all ask these questions throughout the entire year. Lent is, however, a wonderful reminder that we can use this forty day journey to intensify the question, thus we can pursue more directly more "small surrenders."