For the last couple of years or so, I have given up alcohol for Lent. It’s a challenge as I enjoy going to the pub and more often than not evenings with friends involve some kind of drinking. I am not afraid to say that I missed having a drink over Lent. After Easter, when people have asked me how I found the last forty odd days, I replied that I found I slept much better. That’s it. No other change. Certainly, to my shame, no mention of God. What had struck me the most about my Lenten fast was that my night’s kip was less disturbed.
I am not sure what you are giving up this Lent but if you are thinking of doing something or, indeed, have already started, take the advice in our readings this evening. Be clear why you are doing whatever it is you are doing for Lent. Whether it’s fasting, praying or taking something on, be honest enough with yourself to know what it is you are doing and why. For if it’s not to do with God, then we are not doing Lent. If you are giving up chocolate to lose weight, if you are doing more exercise to get fitter, if you are getting up half an hour earlier to achieve more, then good on you but let’s be mature enough to realise that these things are not done for God. If we are not doing these things for God, then, as good as they may be, we are not doing Lent.
Jesus rails against those who show off their piety: who shout loudly about their charity giving, who fast and make sure everyone knows it and those who pray in such a way that you can’t help but notice. They are not doing Lent either for what they seek is not God. What they really want is to get the approval of others; others who are impressed by their apparent holiness. I wasn’t doing Lent by giving up drinking. I was simply giving my liver a rest.
“Yet even now says the Lord, return to me with all your heart” that is the cry of the prophet Joel. “Return to me with all your heart”
We do Lent by returning to the Lord. Taking a consciously deliberate step to God. It is to turn away from the temptations that draw us away from God and turn to him. Not by accident but intentionally and purposefully. We can’t do things with all our heart absent-mindedly or by coincidence or with mixed motives. However, you choose to mark Lent, whatever you give up or whatever you do: do it for God.
Devote your sacrifice or commitment to God at the start of this Lent. When it’s hard, when you are tempted, offer it to God: quietly reminding yourself what you are doing and that what you doing is for God. If you succumb, don’t give up, but carry on with your devotion knowing that God forgives. You are not doing this because God demands it but because by this observance you might return to Him. To know more deeply of his presence in your life. We do it because we want to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus went into the desert for forty days where he was tempted. He went in the desert to learn what he was meant to do next with his life. He went in the desert because for him something about that place was special, where he was able to experience the divine. He did it with purpose.
That is how we return to God with all our heart. Mindfully. Purposefully. Intentionally. If we don’t, let’s not kid ourselves we are doing Lent. But if we do turn to God with all our heart, maybe this year it will be different, maybe this year instead of losing a few pounds or sleeping better or having read more we may learn the reality of the prophecy of Joel that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Now that is doing Lent.
Revd. Didier Jaquet