I never used to like lent. I didn’t like the idea of giving up something random like coffee or TV in order to try to bring me closer to God. I had a bad attitude about it.
As we entered the season of lent this year, I felt similarly, but I decided to be thoughtful and at least try to figure out why I didn’t like lent.
Relating to God Through Lists
What came up for me was that I have a tendency to relate to God through lists. One list comprises things I should do, and one list comprises things I shouldn’t do. When I don’t live up to the standards I set for myself, I feel anxious and guilty. And even when I do a good job of meeting the standards set by the lists, I feel unhappy and grumpy. It’s not the abundant life with God that I want.
I think that’s why I don’t like lent. I think to myself, “Oh great. Now I have to give up something else. I have to add another thing to my already burdensome list. Now there’s one more thing that I have to do or can’t do.” And I’m resistant toward it.
I listened to a sermon by Paul Rasmussen on lent that had a big impact on me. I’d like to share a bit about what he said, and why it was meaningful for me.
The Rich Young Ruler
He preached on the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. Let me summarize what happened. While Jesus was traveling, a rich young ruler came up to him, and asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments—don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, honor your father and mother, etc. The rich young ruler responded that he had kept all these commandments since he was a boy.
I connected with the rich young ruler on this point. Not that I’m great at keeping all the commandments. (I’m not.) But just like me, the rich young ruler had his lists of things he should do and shouldn’t do. And like me, he had gotten pretty good at following the lists. But also like me, something was missing. Even though he was good at keeping the commandments, something was keeping the rich young ruler up at night. Something prompted him to seek out Jesus and clarify what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. There’s a sense that the rich young ruler wasn’t sure he had it quite right.
In the final part of the story, Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then come follow Jesus. And the rich young ruler went away sad, because he had a lot of money.
Focus on What You Have to Give Up
Most of the time when you hear a sermon on this passage, the focus is on what the rich young ruler had to give up. We hear about how hard it is to serve both God and money. We are encouraged to think about our own lives, and see if there might be things we place too high a value on, things that might be good for us to give up.
The Missed Opportunity
But even though I think those are good things to think about, Paul noted that when we focus only on what the rich young ruler had to give up, we miss out on what Jesus offered him. Jesus offered the rich young ruler a chance to follow him. An opportunity to be a disciple. A chance to follow Jesus around, sit at his feet, and learn from God himself. An opportunity to be part of a movement that changed the world. A chance to experience abundant life with God. If you think about it, this was actually a huge offer.
The Heart of Lent
I think that’s what lent is really about. I don’t think God wants us to give something up for the sake of giving something up. I don’t think God wants us to give something up because he wants us to have less fun. Instead, I think God wants us to live a full, rich, abundant life, but God also knows that sometimes things get in the way of that. Sometimes we get in the way of that. So, it’s good to check ourselves occasionally. Might there be something in our lives that is getting in the way of us having the full, abundant life that God has for us? If so, the season of lent is an opportunity to experiment with giving it up. Just to see what happens.
What is something in your life that might be getting in the way of the full, abundant life that God has for you?