Lenten self-examination

The Standard February 25, 2023

“For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)

During the season of Lent, we are reminded of our own mortality. For those who went to worship on Ash Wednesday the minister or priest administered ashes in the shape of a cross on your forehead and likely uttered these words from Genesis.

Lent spans a period of forty days until Easter, not including Sundays. As Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry, Christians take a similar period of time to remember his sacrifice. It is a time for contemplation, fasting, prayer, repentance, moderation, and spiritual discipline. Some people give up something for Lent, like desserts, soft drinks, chocolate, or social media. Others opt for adding positive practices, like more time in Bible reading, prayer or acts of service. As individuals and families this is an especially good time to consider our priorities and reset or tweak them if necessary. All of us benefit from intentionally focusing more on God and on our spirituality.

During this holy season we are not sheltered from the grim realities of this world. We see brokenness and sin all around. We cannot fathom the devastation of over 40,000 dead due to the Turkey-Syria earthquake. We face stark reminders of the fragility of human life and wonder if we are doing what we can to help the hurting.

Chuck B. Colson, an Anglican minister, writes of the benefits to observing lent. “Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love.” He advocates for “a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ” and warns, “But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God’s grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy. Confident of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin’s pollution. God’s grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents.”

Our introspection, repentance and spiritual disciplines are not attempts to earn favor with God but are natural outgrowths of being followers of Christ. We do them because we love God and want to be more like Jesus. Colson concludes with a lovely Lenten benediction.

“So, search your heart and go simple. Consider fasting from types of food, technology, and/or sources of entertainment. Live frugally and do so for the sake of charity. Find a cause, or better yet a person, and give sacrificially. And, in so doing, may you know the joy of Jesus who gave himself fully to us. And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life’s basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don’t forget—Easter is coming!”

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