“You have two choices. You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your forehead.”
For us Baptists, the season of Lent is still something of a mystery. We have heard of it and observed it in one way or another even if we have not fully satisfied our questions as to what it is and what it means for us. The word Lent comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning spring. Embodied in the name is the promise of new life. From the earliest days, the church has used the Lenten season to prepare for Easter with a two-fold focus, preparing for or remembering baptism, and penance. In short, Lent is a time to remember our salvation and to repent from the attitudes and actions that indicate that we have forgotten it.
A good Baptist might say that Lent is about getting right with God; and it is, so long as we are mindful that God does more to get us right than we do to get us right. A good Baptist might also say that we ought to be getting right with God all the time, and that is true as well. But are we? Are we intentionally allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us and form us each day as we seek to live Christ-shaped lives for the sake of others?
Frankly, it is easy in the everyday living of our lives to lose sight of God’s call on our lives. Created to worship and honor God, we are always tempted to make something or someone else god, not because we are bad people in a rebellious, God-hating sense, but more because we are busy people who have many good things that need to be done. Our piece of creation, namely ourselves, gets distorted and distracted from the intent of our Creator.
Lent is the perfect time for us to focus on the health of our relationship with God. What is growing out of that relationship? What is growing in it? As spring makes its way back into our lives, we might use it as a pattern for our Lenten journey. In the spring of the year, fields are plowed and gardens are tilled in preparation for a new growing season. Lent can be that time of spiritual preparation for us. It can be a time to loosen the soil of our souls, breaking the thick sod of unhealthy attitudes and actions, and turning over new ground in which God only knows what might grow.
If you are willing to let the springtime activity of preparing the ground for planting be your guide for this Lenten season, you will need a plow. Here are three options:
Read the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. Read it enough times so that at different moments in your day when you have a few minutes you can reflect on it from memory. Run these events in the life of Christ through your mind as often as you think to do it.
Read Philippians 2:5-13. Take the time to write it down on an index card and keep it with you. Make time each day to read what you have written three or four times. See if you notice God at work in you as you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
I heard from a friend, who heard from a friend who had been running a half-marathon, the phrase, “You have two choices. You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your forehead.” This mother of two children read these words on a sign near the end of her race as her legs were cramping and her surgically-repaired knee had already buckled once. They helped her finish her race. Somehow they strike me as good words for Lent, especially in light of the Apostle Paul’s words in II Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
See if these suggestions will help as you seek to allow the Holy Spirit to conform your life to the image of Christ for the sake of others. If you are reading the Bible through this year, you may want to use that already established discipline as you move through Lent and prepare for Easter. However the Lord leads you, make room in your life for God to grow deeper roots in you.