by Ryan Thurman
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
I have just returned home from a rich Ash Wednesday Service at North Phoenix Baptist. Entering this Lent I am mindful of my historic struggles in observing Lent but instead of being discouraged by this I am full of hope because I see Lent as a gift from God. It is not a time to try to impress God or others, nor is it about trying to earn God’s love or favor. It is a gift because we are invited to cast aside all that keeps us from embracing and walking in the love of God and the abundant life found alone in Jesus. It is a season to confess and lament how prone we are to wander, how quick we can become entangled by sin, and how easily we fall into idolatry by placing a variety of things before God. It is an opportunity, to return to the Lord with all of our heart, as did the younger son of the parable, to the arms of our tender and merciful Father.
Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Lent is a time to ask God for a broken and contrite heart and the gift of tears to soften our hardened hearts towards God and the suffering of others.
It is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes on one's forehead. However, we must remember that the goal of our Lenten disciplines is to transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit, and help us become more like Christ. Marked with his cross, we are Christ’s own: pilgrims on a journey that proclaims lament and celebration, death and suffering, life and resurrection all at once. In Lent we experience the perfect blending of God's kindness and his strength. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
-Romans 2:4 (The Message)
O Lord, who hast mercy upon all, take away from me my sins, and mercifully kindle in me the fire of thy Holy Spirit. Take away from me the heart of stone, and give me a heart of flesh, a heart to love and adore Thee, a heart to delight in Thee, to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ's sake, Amen
-St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)