Lenten Learning

by Jenny Trees, oneLife Maps Facilitator

Lent is a tool that in denying oneself extraneous desires we are able to more clearly see God’s provision for us. Jesus fasted to look beyond himself. We fast in order to get a better understanding of the power and provision of God. There is suffering in letting go of something; sacrifice in choosing to allow our provision to come from God rather than ourselves.

In the past, I have chosen to give something up for Lent. Sometimes I’m not sure what the impact has been, except that my body has benefited from the lack of soda or sugar in its system. I choose to enter into this discipline for the purpose of letting go of something to let God be in control. Pursuing suffering or sacrifice for its own sake does nothing to help my relationship with my Creator. The fast or any discipline can be misused if the tool itself becomes the focus rather than a guide to refocus our view towards God.

It’s evident in our culture that we practice excess rather than sacrifice. I expect life to be easy going rather than filled with suffering. I find reasons to indulge. The more I immerse myself in excess the more I expect life to give me. Where did this entitlement come from? Why shouldn’t I suffer? I work to avoid suffering at all costs.

If Jesus suffers, why should I assume I shouldn’t? In my personal experience, the more life is going well, the more I take control. It’s often the harder life gets the more I am aware of my choices either to wallow in my helplessness or trust God to lead me through. It’s in choosing to trust God when all my basic resources are gone that I find His strength. It’s when I’ve been stripped of all the extraneous stuff that I find a deeper connection with God. The illusion of control is gone.

So what is one of the biggest hindrances in my relationship with God? Often, it’s the perception that I’m in charge, in control of all situations that come my way. The effort I go to in order to keep the perception of happiness alive, rather than moving through all of life circumstances with God leading the way, keeps me from Him. In the book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, the author shares her experience of learning to practice gratitude in all things. Here is what she has to say, “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” Learning to embrace joy and pain reminds me that I’m not in control and that there are powerful lessons in both places of our temporary home here on Earth.

Knowing and remembering that all of life is temporary, no matter what I do, no matter how much I plan and prepare, helps me hold on a bit looser to it all. The one thing that is permanent - bigger than death, hardship, and suffering - is God. As I loosen my grip on all that I have, I create room to hold on to Him.

As we enter into these last weeks of Lent, it’s not too late to consider these questions with new perspective.

Questions To Ponder:
• Why do you fast? What are you really experiencing with it this year?
• What is the purpose of sacrifice and suffering?
• What are you holding onto too tightly to in this world?
• What hinders your relationship with God?
• How can you create room to hold onto God more firmly?

Scripture:
“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12

Prayer:
Father, thank you for the reminders of your love for me that are found in this season of Lent. Help me to engage with you in suffering that draws me closer to you. Let me notice your presence this day with new perspective of your daily grace.

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