The Christian season of Lent encompasses the forty days before Easter. This year it’s from February 10 (Ash Wednesday) to March 27 (Easter), 2016. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where believers focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. At the baptism of our Lord the sky opened and the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Jesus was then sent into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted and prayed for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11). During his time in the desert Jesus was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterward, he was ready to begin his ministry.
Lent is the ideal time of year to repent — to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s like a forty-day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. Repentance is the key that unlocks the soul’s ability to connect with God. To repent means to turn around, to stop going in one direction and start going in another one. It is repentance that makes all the difference in the orientation of our souls in this life.
Certainly, no one can really judge the heart of another. Only God can rightly do that. Yet, the New Testament lets us in on how to truly measure the sincerity of one’s repentance (2 Corinthians 7:2-12). Worldly sorrow or grief does not lead to repentance, but only separation and death. The person with worldly sorrow beats himself up but never really changes direction. Like Judas Iscariot of old, he just metaphorically hangs himself instead of admitting his guilt to Jesus.
But godly sorrow leads to repentance, a real change of direction. And here is the evidence from the Scriptures of the genuineness of the change: owning up to the problem/sin; an eagerness to make things right; indignation over what has been done or said; seeing that there is more pain in avoiding the problem than there is in confronting it; a desire and energy to do what is best for the person whom we have wronged; and, a willingness to accept whatever consequences that might result from the offense.
Crying and tears might occur and can even be necessary, but they can also be a cheap form of avoiding true repentance and might only be worldly sorrow. Instead, there must be solid action that changes direction and seeks to rectify offenses, as much as it is within our control to do so. Deliverance from the power of sin can only come through repentance. There are no shortcuts or easy routes to the soul’s orientation to practical godliness. There is nothing romantic about repentance; it is typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful. Yet, there must be suffering before glory. Trying to take repentance out of the equation is to eviscerate the Christian life and leave our souls vacuous and empty.
Sometimes we do not even know we need to repent because we get caught up in the drama of school, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We might try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless web-surfing, meaningless chatter, too many activities or other stuff that just keeps us busy without thinking too much. We run away from real life and from God. But when we intentionally create a plan to connect with God, his Spirit begins to reveal the need for repentance. That plan during Lent ought to include some form of fasting, prayer, and service. For example, you could take the Christmas cards you received and pray for one of the people/families each day in the forty days, instead of eating the candy bar or drinking the soda; and, then send them a note of encouragement. Or, get up ten minutes earlier than usual and spend those minutes in silence and prayer.
To choose nothing is to give into worldly sorrow and feel guilty. To choose something, whatever that something is, is to anticipate that God will work in your soul to thaw it out, warm it up, and form it to better discover Jesus Christ.