Lent… My not so favorite, favorite season of the Church Year. Not so favorite because Lent always seems to hold up a giant microscopic mirror directly into my face, revealing all my weaknesses, insecurities, and my lack of discipline. Sort of like the microscopic mirror in the bathroom of my mother in laws house, it reveals all my grays… I have failed miserably at Lent so many times. On the other hand, it is my favorite because it is a period of forty days to go deeper, forty days to walk with Jesus, forty days to focus on loving him and loving others around me and when I do that, I tend to discover great freedom, grace and strength, even amongst all of my weakness.
I recently came across a video of a man by the name of Vance Hinds. He was greatly inspired to lose weight and he put his mind to it like nothing else he had ever done in his entire life. On day one he weighed in at 475 pounds. His health was a mere afterthought to say the least, but he had made up his mind; Vance now had a singular focus- to lose weight. He started walking during his first week only to gain three pounds, but he kept at it. His commitment and humility were amazing. He posted his goal and challenge on social media and instantly people started to follow him, people even started to join him walking. Vance absolutely lit it up in the weeks and months to follow. He stayed focused, gave up much around him, he narrowed his sights on his goal, his focus was singular. Finally, after a year of his commitment, Vance weighed in to discover he had lost 177 pounds. He and his coach hugged in jubilation. His singular focus had produced great fruit; he had truly become a new person.
Quit fooling around
So often we make our Lenten commitment to follow Jesus more closely, but instead of spending forty days in the desert being refined by Jesus, we spend forty days fooling around…trying to avoid chocolate or perhaps trying to pray more. While I’m certain these two commitments would be great in the eyes of God, lent is a time to declare to Christ that he alone is enough for us. In a world of conveniences, amenities, and excess, we are given a grand opportunity to declare to Jesus “You are worth so much more than all this stuff, Lord!” Could this be the lent whereby we recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ with a singular focus and find fruitful joy in our lives?
In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis declares and invites us into this deep relationship with Jesus Christ as he says:
“I invite all Christians everywhere at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take risks; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived, in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us, we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” (Joy of the Gospel, 3)
Lent is our chance to narrow things down and pray for a singular focus in our lives: Jesus Christ. Like Vance Hinds we have to give things up and narrow things down in our lives. Instead of asking: “What will I give up this lent, ask the question : How will I grow closer to Jesus Christ this lent?” If we sincerely and with singular focus seek an answer from God to that question he will certainly not remain silent with us. He will reveal to us the areas in our lives that need to be weeded out, he will show to us how to focus on him alone amid a changing and empty world. The Church gives us a beautiful model in aligning our focus on Jesus during lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We use these three opportunities to find Him who is waiting for us. Seek Jesus. With a singular focus.
Do you know any people who have lost 200 pounds? I don’t think I do. What type of person loses 200 pounds? Someone who is obsessed is able to lose 200 pounds. We should pray that we become obsessed with Jesus Christ and his will in our lives during this Lenten season. We should pray that all our other passions will be exposed for what they are: merely other secondary unimportant passions. Considering Christ and his goodness and his mercy, my other passions and goals are nothing.
Think about the people you know in your life who have accomplished anything grand. Generally, there is a subtle (or not so subtle) lining of obsession in their veins. The saints were obsessed with Christ, they were not mediocre in their pursuit of him. You and I can’t grow in holiness without becoming fixated and even obsessed with Jesus Christ. He must compel our actions and our days. But, this is hard. It’s so hard because often I want to compel my own actions or plans, I want to be in charge of my life. But, the blessing of lent is that we are granted 40 days in the desert to sort these things out with Jesus. Don’t be afraid to go there with him. Becoming obsessed with Christ this lent means my life and your life should look different. Different from last week and perhaps different from our neighbor, and that’s OK. If we want to become a changed person, if we want to grow in holiness and become more like Christ, we must do something different and we must go all in. No one loses 200 pounds by coasting along each day.
Take a risk this lent
Once, at a conference, I heard a man speak who went on a forty day fast. And he lived to tell about it… I thought to myself “Who in the world goes on a forty-day fast?” He explained to us the process of his fast and the fruits that it bore in his life: he drew closer to God obviously, and equally as important God revealed to him that he wanted to serve in a particular way during a particular time. During that time, he actually met his wife and saw so many fruits come to life form his service. He explained to us how he felt that had he not have fasted and went to the desert with Jesus he probably wouldn’t have heard the voice of God calling him into action. God honored and blessed his fast tremendously. Think about that for a moment: he took a risk and God was right there waiting for him, right there with more joy and life to give him.
As I listened to all this I thought “a forty day fast is quite a risk…you could become really sick and malnourished…” But, my takeaway was the often-quoted phrase “No risk no reward”. I certainly am not calling a forty day fast in anyone’s life who is reading this, but I am proclaiming that too often I am short sighted in what God wants to accomplish in my life because of my fears. Are you the same? God wants us to go all in. Take a risk this lent with your time, with your money, with your talents. Serve or give in ways you never have. Pray in ways and times that you never have done before. If you normally “can’t find time to pray” then wake up at 4:00 AM and pray then. If you have never really fasted then go for it. All in. Now is the time. Risk taking for Jesus and his kingdom is the best opportunity we may ever be presented with. Our lives and those around us can be transformed by grace. Cling to the cross these great forty days.
Perhaps my favorite parable in all of scripture is found in Matthew 13:44. It’s the shortest of all parables for sure, but lacks for nothing. Jesus declares:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and buys that field.”
Lord, Jesus give us a singular focus and passion for you during these upcoming forty days. You are the treasure, Jesus. You are our treasure. Narrow our focus onto you and fix our eyes on you alone so that we can love you and love others as you do, and so that we can more humbly and more boldly take you to the world. Amen.