We are now less than a week from Ash Wednesday and our 2021 Lenten journey. Lent, of course, is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter. For centuries, Christians have used Lent as time to invest in their relationship with God. Without intentionality, there is drift in any relationship, and Lent is a time when Jesus followers make an intentional effort to align or re-align, our lives with God’s will.
Lenten devotion takes many forms. Some believers practice some form of fasting or abstinence: from food, from sexual intimacy, from television or social media. We hope that our small sacrifices will make us mindful of the great sacrifice that Christ has made for us. In the same way, some believers are more intentional about prayer, scripture reading, worship, acts of kindness, and good works. (By the way, you can find access to a very helpful Lenten devotional guide on the homepage of our church’s website: fbcgwd.org.) Naturally, the intent of these spiritual practices is to not only draw us closer to Christ but also to make us more like him. The New Testament uses words such as “sanctification” and “transformation” to describe this process. In this sense, the goal of observing Lent is the same as the goal of the Christian life, to become less like we were and more like Jesus.
There are several ways to talk about this shared goal. One is to talk about priorities. Maybe the simplest way to measure our faith and our spiritual maturity is to ask: how do our priorities compare to the priorities of God? Or we can frame the question in terms of what we are pursuing in our lives, what we are trying to attain. It seems fairly clear that what the culture is telling us we need to attain is not the same as what Jesus said we need to attain. To put it concisely and colloquially: what are you chasing? What are you after with your life?
I heard Fred Craddock tell this story. He said:
I was in a home not long ago where they’d adopted a greyhound, a spotted hound, that had been a racing dog. The dog was lying there in the family den. One of the kids in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on the dog’s tail; and another child, a little older, was reclining on the dog, using the dog for a pillow. That dog just seemed so happy, and I said to the dog, “Are you still racing any?”
He said, “No, no, no, I don’t race anymore.”
I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Well, what happened? Did you get too old?”
He said, “No, I still had some race in me.”
I said, “Then what– didn’t you win?”
He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”
I said, “Then what was it, bad treatment?”
He said, “Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”
I said, “Did you get crippled?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Then what?”
And he said, “I quit.”
He said, “Yeah, I quit.”
I said, “Why did you quit?”
He said, “I found out that the rabbit we were chasing wasn’t real.” He looked at me and said, “All that running, running, running, running, running, and what we were chasing wasn’t even real.”