*This article was orginally published by Simply Mobilizing Canada and has been republished with permission. You can find the original article here: Into the Wilderness
Several conversations recently have surfaced the question, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?”
I grew up in a Christian home, but as a child Lent was not part of my family’s spiritual rhythms. I have no history to fall back on in knowing how to observe Lent. It has been a process of discovery as an adult.
What is Lent?
So, what is Lent? And why do people focus on giving things up during this season?
Lent is a 40-day season, this year starting on March 2 (Ash Wednesday), leading through a journey of self-denial, prayer, and repentance in preparation for the joyful celebration of Easter. These 40 days are modelled after Jesus’ 40-day fast after his baptism, prior to the launch of his public ministry. We read about it in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark, as usual, is the most succinct in his description,
"The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him." (Mark 1:12-13)
Matthew and Luke elaborate, describing in detail the temptations that Jesus faced:
1. The temptation to make bread from stones
2. The temptation to jump from the temple
3. The temptation to rule the kingdoms of the world
In each case Satan was tempting Jesus to divert from the path of obedience, suffering and sacrifice, towards the road of self-service, fame, and power.
In each case Jesus resisted the temptation, responding with Scripture.
Obedience, Suffering, Self-Denial
None of us like self-denial. It goes against our very nature. But the call of Jesus Christ to follow him calls us each to the path of obedience, suffering and sacrifice. We read in Luke 9:23-26,
"And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'”
These are hard words!
The call of the gospel is certainly a call to life, freedom, joy, and hope. But at the same time, it is a call to obedience, suffering and denial—we are called to lay down our lives, and in that process, we gain life!
The season of Lent is an invitation to journey into the wilderness—a place of introspection, reflection, and repentance. Where have I drifted from that path? Where am I being disobedient? Where have I chosen self-service over self-sacrifice? Where have I chosen fame over humility? Where have I chosen power over weakness?
Along your faith-walk you have likely heard Jesus’ invitation to join him in his mission.
- It may have been a call to pray more consistently for lost people to find their way into God’s family
- It may have been a call to share your faith with your neighbour
- It may have been a call to prioritize service over other activities
- It may have been a more radical call to reposition yourself (either geographically or vocationally) to be more useful in Christ’s mission.
The invitation will have been unique to you, but obeying it will have come at a cost.
Maybe you have responded to that invitation and are feeling discouraged. Maybe you have hesitated to respond and are feeling like you have failed.
I urge you to take this season of Lent to journey into the wilderness. Take the opportunity to quiet your schedule and your heart. Take time with Jesus, listening for his words of exhortation, encouragement, rest, forgiveness… Come apart for these forty days to fast and pray, resisting the temptations that have the potential to distract and lead to preoccupations away from God’s purposes for your life.
Like Jesus, we need at times to journey into the wilderness with the Lord in order to be prepared for the mission he has called us to. Join me this Lent in listening, praying, repenting, and denying myself, so that I may be filled with joy as I journey on in following Jesus in his mission to this lost world.
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.