Week one of Lent is over. If I’m completely honest, I still struggle with why I’m doing this. I think the struggle is coming because I tend to lean towards a works salvation to begin with. Don’t hear me wrong, salvation is NOT by works or penance or being less bad than that other guy over there. My sister in law recently told me that where she lives they basically believe that if you haven’t killed anyone you’re good to go. Heaven is awaiting you. If you have, well, sucks to be you.
The truth of it all is that we are saved by grace. Only grace. Not grace plus praying enough. Not grace plus serving enough. Not grace plus reading enough bible. Not grace plus feeding the poor. Not grace plus raising your hands in worship. Not grace plus going on a missions trip to Mexico. Not grace plus not swearing. Not grace plus quoting scripture naturally in conversation complete with correct reference. Not grace plus youth group. Not grace plus not making out with your boyfriend. Not grace plus not watching that movie. Not grace plus not having beer. Not grace plus tithing enough or going to church enough or attending bible study enough or volunteering enough or not swearing or not smoking or ….!!!
Grace plus anything at all is not what I believe. It is simply the grace of God which saves us.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
So I get that there’s nothing I can do that can result in my salvation. I can’t be good enough or do enough ever to earn righteousness. Ever. But sometimes I fall into thinking I can. Like I should probably be a part of a bible study, it’s what Christians do. And I feel bad when I pass groups of people feeding the poor because I don’t do that. I have guilt over living in the western world when children are dying from unclean water just a plane ride away. But I know that these things don’t save me. These may be things we do out of a changed heart. But they aren’t the way to Christ.
This is why I’m struggling with Lent. It feels like something I can do for God. Like he could ever need something that I, a pithy little earthling, could give. He doesn’t need me or my little acts. He doesn’t need my prayers or my fasting. He just doesn’t. In fact, scripture goes so far as to call our righteous acts to God like a polluted garment or a filthy rag. (Isaiah 64:6) I’m not sure if you’ve ever looked at a filthy rag and thought to yourself, dude, I want to be just like that! I’m guessing not.
Here’s what I do know, the scripture speaks a lot to us about denial. Like, a lot. About being restrained and self-controlled. Don’t believe me?
Luke 9:23 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
1 Cor. 9: 25 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control…”
Shall I go on? Didn’t think so.
With all that is taught us about self-control and denial I really do see Lent as a spiritual exercise. It is a daily giving up. Therefore a daily practice of self-control. It’s setting aside time to take up our cross and to deny ourselves even the trivial things we give up as an act of our spiritual worship.
I’m pretty sure it’s important in the life of believers. I’d like to say I know it is. But I’m only a week in…
Here’s some of my journaling from the week:
Day 1: Instead of going downstairs early in the morning to brew my americano, I filled a large glass with ice and water. While my mornings are always busy, I still take the time to grab sips of my coffee throughout it. The sad part? My water glass just sat there untouched. I wasn’t craving water. I was craving coffee! I glanced at it, still full, out of the corner of my eye on my way out of the house and my thought? “Oh whatever.”
That water cup brought tears to my eyes when I came back home and saw it still in the place I first set it. That water cup, for just a moment, was representative of where Jesus often ends up in my life. He’s sitting there. Riiiiiight there. Just waiting to be drunk of, savoured, wanting to quench our desires and our needs. But instead I bypass him for other things. Taking sips of life from everywhere, drinking the cultural kool-aid, relying on everything and myself above him. Day 1 you have kicked my butt!
Day 2: It’s Valentine’s Day. My sweet co-worker came in for her shift with a huge grin and a starbucks cup in her hand. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” She cooed. “I wanted to treat you to your favourite!” A chai latte was there in her hand. She passed it to me. She had written a little love message and had drawn hearts all over the sleeve. I panicked. What do I do? Can she see the fear in my eyes? I don’t know what to do!!
I thought of telling her that I couldn’t drink it and then I’d have to spend the next half hour explaining why. But when I looked at her face I knew that not drinking this, to deny her the joy of giving me this gift, would be like kicking a puppy. So cruel. So unnecessary. I couldn’t. So I drank that Chai. And I liked it!
Do you know how often we go out for drinks with friends? Never. Like I’m pretty sure the last time was at least 8 months ago. Oh, but how about we do that on the 2nd day of Lent? Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great idea! We’d just spent an hour laughing our heads off at our friend’s comedy show and the crew decided that an after party was in order. We all sat in the uber-modern restaurant on cuddle couches around a warm, low fireplace. Bellini’s and beers and glasses of white wine were on every side of me. I’ll have a water, please. (I am a loser.)
Day 3: Do you wanna know what sucks about this whole Lent thing? Because I’ve chosen to deny myself any other sort of liquid? I want it ALL. THE. TIME! Like the whole depravation factor heightens your awareness in every possible way. So instead of just going about your day, you now have eyes that only see what everyone is drinking. I noticed every single person today that had a Starbucks cup. My boys drank ginger ale with their pizza tonight and I sniffed their glasses just to get some satisfaction and as I sit on the couch typing this all I want is a warm tea. Water seems so cold and heartless to me right now. It makes my insides shiver and I don’t want it at all. Does resentment come before enlightenment? If so, I’m on the right track.
Day 4: I can’t figure this out. I think I’ve gone about it all wrong. From some of the reading I’ve done I find that people give up trivial things, sort of indulgences, as I have, as a form of daily sacrifice. But others say that it should be a looking at ourselves and changing our hearts, our ways, setting aside a sinful habit or matter of the heart. Something more like complaining or impatience. Have I failed in my choice of denying myself? So I can’t have a coffee but I can grumble about it all day? What?
Jesus denied himself food. That’s not a sin issue. It was merely a sacrifice. He didn’t sin so that wouldn’t apply to him but he did get hungry just like you and me. So he willingly gave up something sacrificial. Is giving up coffee and tea sacrificial? I guess in the western world it is. I don’t know how to do this!!
Day 7: I took some days off from reading and journaling because it was muddling up my head. I may be an over-analyzer. An over-thinker. A rule follower. I just want to get this right. But in wanting to get it right I’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t about rules. It’s about repentance. It’s about faith. It’s not about obedience to church tradition. It’s about honouring God. With my heart. A heart that wants to seek him and serve him and sacrifice something so small to focus on who He is. Who I am in light of that. What He’s done for me. *sigh*