A Lenten Invitation to Draw Near to God
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Growing up in a Protestant family and a secular culture, I thought of Lent as an unfortunate burden for my Roman Catholic friends. The only time I ever used the word “Lent” was in a joke. If, while playing football with my friends, I kept dropping the ball, I might have said, “Man, I’ve gotta stop fumbling the ball. I’m going to give up fumbling for Lent!” That sorry attempt at a joke did reveal the extent of my understanding of Lent. It was a time when some Christians had to give up things, like eating meat. If you had asked me why people did this, I would have told you that it was part of the Catholic tradition. That’s all I knew.
I now know that some strands of Protestant Christianity also acknowledged Lent during the years of my youthful ignorance, but my evangelical brand of Christianity never considered it. In fact, I expect that had I thought about it, I would have regarded it as the kind of Pharisaic pietism that is inconsistent with biblically based faith. I no longer see Lent this way. But it is important to note that nothing in Scripture requires Christians to practice Lent, and that, like any religious practice, Lent can become laden with graceless legalism.
Yet, in the last three decades of my life, I have discovered that Lent can also be a season for spiritual growth and refreshment. Above all, Lent is a time of preparation, a six-week season for readying our hearts for a deeper and truer experience of Christ’s passion and resurrection. The chief purpose of Lent is to help us know God more profoundly as we celebrate the amazing news of Good Friday and Easter. Since I have recognized Lent, I have indeed experienced this very thing.
Lenten practices vary widely among Christians. Historically, the season of Lent has been a time of fasting, a time for giving up something enjoyable in order to focus more fully on God. Other Christians, however, have stressed taking on a seasonal discipline during Lent, rather than giving up something. Many churches sponsor special Lenten Bible studies or service opportunities. Individual Christians often use Lenten-themed materials for their personal devotions.
The point of Lenten practices, however, is not in the giving up or the adding on. It’s in what happens inside of us through these practices. They are meant to help us focus more fully on God. Fasting for Lent makes us more aware of our neediness for the Lord. Lenten disciplines draw our attention to him. Thus, the point of Lent is to respond with greater intentionality to the invitation in Hebrews 4:16: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
Lent is a time to come before God with consistency, to open your heart to his mercy, to make yourself available to his grace. No matter what you do or don’t do during the weeks before Good Friday and Easter, I would urge you to draw near to God regularly so that you might be renewed in your relationship with him and so that you might be ready to experience more deeply and truly the passion and resurrection of Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How have you thought about or experienced Lent in the past? What about now? Do you see Lent as a season in which you might draw near to God? What might you do (or not do) so as to focus more fully on God during the season of Lent?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I need the encouragement of Lent right now. You know that. It is so easy for my life to become full of everything except you. My concentration can be scattered, my attentiveness to your Spirit dampened. So, I am grateful for a Christian tradition that interrupts my status quo and calls me back to you. Thank you.
I do not want this season to be a time of going through the motions. May the things I do and the things I refrain from doing simply be channels of attention and grace. May they help me to focus on you, opening my heart to all that you would do in me.
Above all, may I draw near to you in these days. To be sure, I should do this all the time. I know that. But something about setting aside a special season helps me to remember you and to approach you. How grateful I am for the invitation to come before you and for your promise of mercy and grace!
All praise be to you, O God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Editorial Note: If you'd like to learn more about Lent, we recommend this short article, written by Mark: How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship With God.