Growing up I had never heard of “Lent”. It was a foreign concept to my low-brow spiritual upbringing.
In fact all of the “church calendar” (with the notable exceptions of Easter, Christmas and Pentecost) were seen as the machinations of the elite liturgical church used to manufacture artificial spiritual experiences.
Jeesh…we are a dumb lot sometimes.
Unfortunately, the natural proclivity of religion is to poo-poo anything and anyone that is different from us, challenging to our tightly-packed theological boxes or subversive to our neatly-arranged picture of the God we have created in our image.
I had no idea what I was missing in my unexamined life.
Advent and Lent, the seasons of Jesus coming and going, are the most precious times of each year for me now. Discovering these extended times of reflection has often reshaped my understanding, apprehension and involvement with the Kingdom.
Lent is a season of waiting—a time of concentrated focus on what matters most but normally gets the least attention.
It is about incubation, gestation. The tortuously slow season when everything is happening inside the egg while we impatiently wait for it to hatch.
- Unfulfilled dreams become more vivid.
- Unrealized hopes get more intense.
- Unanswered prayers are more insistent.
- Unaccomplished goals are more accusing.
Nothing much happens visibly or on the surface. It is like winter. Whatever happens of any significance happens underground. Hidden. Subversive, covert change.
In the Kingdom, God’s obvious answer to the riddle is the egg comes first. This waiting precedes any working.
Intangible internal transformation leads to extravagant external impact.
I don’t particularly like the internal, unseen, immaterial part of that equation.
I am an event guy. I want visible, palpable results. If it is real I want it to show on the surface. Immediately demonstrable. Undeniable in its calculable outcome. Shock and awe spiritual experience.
And I would like all that now with a side of fries, please.
As with most things God does, Lent is nothing like that. It is about quiet.
Here we sit still long enough to actually hear…walk slow enough to authentically see.
Lent requires withdrawal from distraction. It demands dialing down the noise in time in order to tune into the frequency of eternity.
In some ways the Lenten season is about just sitting there. Not doing, not striving.
Unproductive and inefficient, we experience a loss of the trappings of importance we associate with busy-ness. We enter the character-shaping, heart-transforming work of a God who is in no hurry to radicalize our thoughts and character.
It is slow–deadeningly slow. A tortoise-and-the-hair mismatch of our frenetic world and our faithful God.
But in this maddeningly frustrating stillness is the “gentle whisper” of God that changes the trajectory of life from here on. This stillness is essential for us or we inevitably drift the wrong direction for so long we end up completely off the radar.
Lent carries one message: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
So this season rolls around every year just in time to correct our course and redirect our energies into the stuff of the Kingdom that matters more than we know because it amounts to more than we can imagine.
This morning I was stunned by these words from Isaiah…“Since before time no one has ever imagined, no ear heard, no eye seen a God like you who works for those who wait.” (Isaiah 64:4, MSG).
All the other “gods” in our lives wait for us to work.
They make incessant demands on our time, energy, dreams and aspirations. Literally waiting for us to wear ourselves down to nothing for them. And in turn, we get nothing from them.
Task-masters, slave-drivers who only value us for what we do, how much we produce, what we add to their little fiefdoms no matter the cost to ours.
But our God, the one true God worthy of the title, waits for us to wait.
- He is anxious for us to stand still so we can see His salvation. (Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17; 1 Samuel 12:16)
- He longs for us to wait on him until we can walk unwearied and soar unfettered (Isaiah 40:31)
- He desires that we stand and watch to see what He is saying (Habakkuk 2:1)
- He aches for us to be still so we can know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)
God works for those who wait.
He begins at our endings. He picks up where we leave off. He finishes what we give up on.
God is less interested in our feeble efforts to do for Him and more concerned about demonstrating what He can do through us. He is unimpressed with our busyness in doing what we can. Instead, He wants us to quietly be with Him until He is able to do what only He can.
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
So for me the practices of Lent allow me to enter that season of frustrating madness where I am still until God is no longer still on my behalf.