The weird cousin in the family of church holidays, right?
What are you giving up for Lent? Like, I lent you a book and I’m giving that up?
It’s something that other people do. For the Salvationist, I’d like to say that it’s something we do for others.
Lent became part of the fabric of Christian culture even before the Church’s first split into Roman and Orthodox Catholicism. The Church itself was notably unified when this observance began. The Council of Nicea references and supports the time of self-denial and reflection, and gives us the understanding that Lent is an ecumenical and ancient part of the journey of the united Bride.
Growing out of what was first likely a 40-hour time of watchfulness in preparation for Easter, (many early Christians believed Christ was in the tomb for that length of time), Lent grew into a 40-day season that was most traditionally a preparation for baptism and a consideration of the need for forgiveness and harmony within the Christian community.
Fasting and self-denial are often markers in the modern-day Church over these days, but why?
If the Holy Spirit equips us every day of the year for the eradication of sin, and by faith through grace we are already whole and equipped with every spiritual blessing, why would we need to remove things from our lives and suffer for the further removal of sin? If we are an Easter people, why would we figuratively lie in sackcloth and ashes for ourselves?
Certainly there are times in our lives for self-reflection and consecration that allows the Holy Spirit to be more clearly heard for the purposes of personal holiness. But I would dare to say that Lent, for the Salvationist, is only self-focused to the point necessary for us to be most thoroughly and victoriously others-focused.
The Salvationist is saved to save. We are not monastic in the sense that we are removed and set apart for our own self-enlightenment. We are living sacrifices – all on the altar – always – for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom.
I find an odd paradox in this wartime journey. We often think that self-reflection will lead us into deeper holiness. I find the opposite is often true. The enemy lies in wait with shame and guilt that paralyzes the believer who is left with hands empty of mission and purpose for the life that he lives. When we move from saved for self to saved to save – deepening personal holiness is always the result.
So in our challenge to live lives heartsick for the Lost, how will you be self-focused for the sake of being others-focused?
William Booth once cautioned, “Men cannot be turned from Satan to God by gentle phrases and lavender water. To save men is a desperate, agonizing, wounding business.”
Consider this heartsickness. Be desperate. Agonize. Risk the wounding.
He did it for others.
You do it for others.