America’s leading pollster, George H. Gallup Jr., reports that 82 percent of Americans say they “experience in their lives a need for spiritual growth” (The Next American Spirituality). I would count myself among the 82 percent feeling keenly my ongoing need for spiritual growth. Like many people, I am finding that the yearly observance of Lent helps me grow spiritually. It’s not what I ‘give up’, it’s what I gain. I come out of Lent and Easter with renewed love for God and people.
Although I was not raised in a church tradition that observed the season of Lent, I have in recent years experienced the vital difference that Lent and its spiritual practices can make in our lives. Now I look forward each year to Lent as a time for drawing closer to God and experiencing His presence in new and powerful ways. I delight in knowing that I am joining with a long succession of Christians through the centuries who have expressed devotion to Messiah Jesus through keeping the season of Lent.
It is not without significance that the church’s observance of Lent predates our celebration of Christmas. In the second century the Church Father, Irenaeus (A. D. 130 – 202), wrote about the observance of Lent as going back to “the time of our forefathers”. Although there was variation as to the length of the Lenten season, it was always a time for Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, fasting, and repentance as preparation for the celebration of Easter.
The first council of the church, the Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), while silent about any mention of Christmas, prescribed a 40 day period for Lent for the entire church both East and West. The early spiritual leaders of the church, entrusted with the care of souls, knew the importance of a yearly season for spiritual renewal and growth. Like most of our holy days and holidays, the observance of Lent has changed through the centuries, but the purpose has always been the same: spiritual growth. And what better time for new growth than coming out of winter into spring!
The word Lent means “spring” and comes from the Middle English lente, meaning “lengthen”. Lent signifies the “lengthening” of the daylight hours after the long winter nights. The dark cold of winter is passing, sap is rising in the trees, new life is budding with possibilities for growth all around. Just as the physical world is being renewed, so can our spiritual lives be renewed and fruitful. That is the promise of Lent: a time for spiritual growth and renewal. In turn, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter become so much more meaningful.
Christians do not observe Lent with the idea of winning points with God, or trying to earn His love! Rather, we keep Lent in order to live into the daily experience of His love for us right now, just as we are. If you decide not to keep Lent this year, rest assured that God won’t love you any less. And if you choose to observe Lent, God can’t love you anymore than He already does right now! Please rest in knowing God’s infinite love for you. But what a difference it would make for us to choose daily time to celebrate, grow, and rest in the knowledge of God’s love! And that brings us to Blessed: Daily Retreats with Jesus for the Season of Lent 2013.
These daily reflections are based on the life Jesus calls “blessed”. Also known as the “beatitudes” (Latin for “blessed”), this blessed life can be ex-perienced by all. The life truly blessed is not just for a select few, but for all who look to Jesus.
The beatitudes are not entrance requirements to God’s kingdom, but rather Jesus’ description of life lived with God. The beatitudes describe the good life, the blessed life that is at the heart of Jesus’ good news.
So if you, like me, are one of the 82 percent of people feeling the need for ongoing spiritual growth, you could not find a better place to begin than with Jesus and the life He calls “blessed”. I hope you will take the following daily reflections not as good advice, but good news, good news from Jesus about life. Spend some moments each day of Lent reading, reflecting, and responding to God. Each day’s reflection will include:
- A brief Scripture reading and reflection from the beatitudes as we take them one at a time.
- A Ponder and Pray section where you will consider what you have read and talk with God.
Let’s begin by reading all the beatitudes, then asking for God’s blessing and guidance for the coming days.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
PONDER AND PRAY
- What feelings does reading the beatitudes stir in you?
- What thoughts does reading the beatitudes stir in you?
- Tell Father God what you would like for Him to do in your life during the days of Lent.
- Pray: “Loving Father, when Jesus calls us to follow Him, we never know where He will lead us, but we know that it will be good. Believing in your heart and purpose to bless us, I want to follow Jesus the best I can. Please take my hand, guide me, bless me, and make me a blessing to others. Amen.”