One challenge of attending a contemporary church service is that we often skip the liturgical traditions I grew up observing such as Advent and Lent. Some years Palm Sunday arrives and I have no idea what’s happening as little kids are running around at a restaurant with their palm leaves until it hits me that we’ve missed acknowledging the significance of the day at church.
While it’s not a Biblical requirement to observe the liturgical calendar, I’ve realized that pausing to acknowledge the events surrounding the days leading up to significant events such as Jesus’s birth and death add weight and gravity to them and allow me to contemplate the gravity and importance of them for longer.
Britannica defines Lent as “A period of preparation and fasting likely has been observed before the Easter festival since apostolic times, though the practice was not formalized until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. It was a time of preparation of candidates for baptism and a time of penance for sinners.”
The summary in Britannica ends with a modern version of Lenten practices “In addition, Catholics and other Christians often choose to give up specific pleasures, such as sweets, alcohol, or social media, during Lent as a way to foster simplicity and self-control; many use their cravings or desires for these items as a reminder to pray and to refocus on spiritual matters.”
Lent is a time to refocus our thoughts on the sacrifices Jesus made for us here on earth so we can spend eternity with him in heaven.
As I strive to focus on my One Word for 2020 Pursue I want to intentionally observe Lent. I’ve spent the past few months reading the Book of John and the Lent devotional I usually read 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. is a perfect devotional to continue that focus because it has a daily reading from the Book of John.
But, as I consider the word purse and different applications it’s important for me to consider other opportunities Lent creates to reflect on the time leading up to Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice for us. John Greco writes, “Though our sins may differ from those of our ancient counterparts, our hearts are just as prone to wander. And it is only when we see the depths of our own sin that we can see the glory of the cross for what it truly is. During Lent, we take time to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, and we repent of our own sins that made the cross necessary in the first place. ”
God Pursues Wandering Hearts
Throughout the entire Bible, we see a beautiful story of how God lovingly purses his people whose hearts wander to worship other gods. We all wander for different reasons whether it’s power, money, acceptance, the false belief that we can control things ourselves, or even apathy. But God never stops pursuing his children.
What if this Lent we give up some time we spent on personal preferences, something that may cause our heart to wander and instead spend that time focusing on Jesus’s sacrifice for us?
One of the things that stands out to me as I continue to read through John is the repetition of the same conversations. I can’t help but wonder if Jesus was starting to feel a sense of urgency. Knowing the disciple’s hearts would wander in the days to come, did he continue to bring them back to one main truth and reinforce the importance of loving others so that when they wandered they would always know how to find their way back to him?
Jesus reinforced that the disciples should focus on loving everyone around them. Loving neighbors, loving enemies, and even loving those who would persecute them. Hearts will wander, and when they do we need to find our way back to God. When we’re lost in the wilderness or a storm human instinct is to cling to something we recognize.
John 13:33-35 says, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus told the disciples to love each other so other people would recognize that they were his followers. Wandering hearts would be drawn back to followers of Jesus by those who loved them well. So part of knowing how to love like Jesus must involve studying how Jesus pursued others and loved them when he was here on earth. Additionally, how God has always pursued his people and continues to pursue us even today.