February 15, 2021
It’s been a long year. If you’re like me, these past eleven months have taken their toll emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We’ve had months to get the hang of the protocols and procedures of “pandemic life,” and while many of us may have adapted to our new realities, that doesn’t necessarily mean we're thriving. We all look forward to the day when we can finally emerge from this season of isolation. But the reality is that many of us are not quite there yet.
Instead, as we head into Lent, our social circles are still smaller than we might wish, and we’re probably lonelier than we’d like to admit. After a challenging year, you might feel like you’re running on empty, and the idea of observing Lent might feel like more than you can bear. You’re not alone. I too have found it difficult to muster up the spiritual “oomph” to observe Lent well. However, after recently reading Matthew 3 and 4—and taking a little time to reflect on the foundations of Lent—I have come to think that Lent is exactly what my soul needs right now.
While it may feel unusual to observe Lent when we’re physically distant from our church communities, it is important to remind ourselves that Lent is patterned after Jesus’ own time of spiritual retreat and isolation. For 40 days, Jesus left behind his community and his regular practices, and he withdrew to the wilderness to fast and pray in preparation for his public ministry. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). As we prepare for Easter in a Lenten season marked by semi-isolation again this year, consider how you might relate in new and meaningful ways to Jesus’ time of wilderness solitude. What strikes you differently as you read Matthew 4 this year? What temptation has isolation brought to the surface for you? And how might you better prepare yourself for Easter in line with Christ’s model?
Looking to Jesus as our Lenten model, we also notice that he didn’t head into the wilderness on his own. In Matthew 3 (just before the wilderness account), we find Jesus seeking out John the Baptist to be baptized. Jesus knew he needed the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit for what he would face. “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16). After his baptism “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matthew 4:1a).
As you head into Lent this year, take time to reflect on your own baptism, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you on your Lenten journey.
For forty days and forty nights, Jesus fasted from food and water to draw closer to God and align his will with the Father (Matthew 4:2). For this reason, fasting has been a central part of Lent since the early church. However, there has never been uniformity in how Christians have fasted or what they have given up.
We often think about fasting as a food-specific practice, but it doesn’t have to be. The focus of fasting is on denying yourself something for the purpose of actively drawing closer to God. While some people might give up certain meals or a particular food type during Lent, others may abstain from regular activities to focus their attention on their relationship with God.
This Lent is a wonderful opportunity to stop, take a breath, and take stock of how we are spending our time. What areas of your life have flourished during the pandemic, and which have withered? Have you unintentionally filled your time with distractions that are insulating you from God? How might fasting from something this year help you deepen your intimacy with God?
During his time in the wilderness, Jesus depended on the Word of God. In response to each of Satan’s three temptations, Jesus quoted Scripture. Long before he met these temptations face-to-face, he had committed Scripture to his heart, and God’s Word was mighty to overcome.
How has your study and memorization of Scripture helped you meet the challenges of this last year? Do you feel God calling you to recommit to Bible reading this Lent to equip you for the year ahead?
Lent is a great opportunity to reset our spiritual routines and focus anew on Jesus after a difficult, disruptive, and isolating year. We need not be afraid or overwhelmed. We have a model in Jesus, an Advocate in the Holy Spirit, and an immovable resource in God’s Word.
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