This article was originally published in our denomination’s magazine, The Lutheran Ambassador. I thought it would be appropriate to post during this season of Lent.
Are you a disciplined person? Do you go to the gym or walk regularly to exercise your body? Do you take all the training offered in your workplace so that you can advance in your career? Do your read child development books and Parents Magazine in the hopes of becoming the best mom or dad you can be?
All of these activities require discipline, and most of us are willing to practice discipline when the end result is important to us.
Lent is a season of spiritual discipline. At the time of the Reformation, when some wanted to eliminate Lent, Martin Luther argued for keeping it saying,
“Lent, Palm Sunday and Easter week should be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to preserve the Passion history and the gospels appointed for that season” Luther’s Works 53:90
Adopting a Lenten practice has real spiritual value. It can help us develop self-control by detaching our desires from worldly things. We may identify more strongly with Christ’s suffering and meditate on the true meaning of discipleship. It is a concrete way to express sorrow and repentance for our sins.
Most often I hear people say they are observing Lent by giving something up (in the case of Lutherans, this is usually coffee or desserts, which seem to be our particular vices!) There is nothing wrong with fasting for Lent, especially if we are avoiding something which is a particular area of sin or a distraction for us. I am an avid reader and I sometimes “fast” from all secular reading during Lent. This opens up more time for reading the Bible and devotional literature. You might “fast” from watching TV for the same reason; or give up recreational shopping or eating out and donate the money you save to a worthy cause.
Adding something to your schedule is another way to practice spiritual discipline. If your church has a weekly Lenten service, go — this is a discipline that will help you grow in your faith! One year our congregation shared our favorite Bible verses and committed ourselves to memorizing one new verse each day during Lent. It was marvelous to see the variety in God’s word and an incentive to strengthen our spiritual muscles. You might try setting aside extra time for prayer, offering your services to a local ministry, or writing notes of encouragement to people who need God’s love.
We are each unique, so be creative in finding the Lenten exercise that stretches an increases your faith. If you think of Lent as a journey, you may very well end up in a new place when it is over. Make it a time of exciting discovery instead of that dreary season you have to endure on the way to Easter. Have a blessed Lent as you seek his face.