Often we think of Lent as a time for “giving up” things like chocolate or desserts. I see Lent as a time for going deeper into God’s justifying grace. In Lent, we try to comprehend more fully the mystery of SIN (that basic human estrangement from God which is afraid to trust God), which crucified Christ. And we try to go more deeply into the mystery of God’s unfathomable love, also revealed on the cross, which finally convinces us to trust God. Grace, in this aspect of convincing us to trust God’s love for us, is called justifying grace.
Lent is also a time for going higher in our walk of faith, in what we call God’s sanctifying grace. At the moment we are justified, i.e., brought by God’s grace back into a right relationship of trust in God, we begin to grow in grace. God’s sanctifying grace begins to root out the vestiges of sin in us and we are gradually transformed into the image of Christ.
Ellsworth Kalas, a prominent United Methodist pastor and host of the Christian Believer series, contends that there is something very Methodist and
Wesleyan about Lent because Lent calls us to “grow in grace,” which is a very Wesleyan idea.
“For me,” Kalas confesses, “the truest Lenten song may be one which I sang in the Methodist prayer meets and mid-week services of my youth:
I’m pressing on the upward way,
new Heights I’m gaining every day;
still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
To be sure, we can grow at any time. But just as there are seasons of growth in nature’s cycle, so there are seasons of spiritual growth. Lent is just such a time in the life of the church—a call, as Kalas says, to press on to “higher ground.”
He thinks we should look on Lent as “the liturgical equivalent of the old-fashioned Methodist revival and camp meeting,” the difference being that, in Lent, we can give extended attention to God’s claim on our souls beyond just one emotion-filled evening.
In other words, Lent is not so much about “giving up” something, especially something trivial, for a mere forty days, only to take it up again when Lent is officially over. No, Lent is the serious reminder that all our life, every day of it, is a spiritual journey, either toward God or away from God. Lent invites us to take stock and ask ourselves, “Am I closer to God than I was a year ago, or farther away, or am I just standing dead in my tracks? Am I on ‘higher ground’?”
Instead of “giving up” something for Lent this year, may I suggest that you consider “taking on” the traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer and Bible reading, fasting, and almsgiving? Consider signing up for Covenant Bible Study or one of the Lenten studies being offered.
I’ll be looking to see you on Higher Ground,