Tomorrow begins this year’s Lenten season. Lent is simply the 40 plus days between “Ash Wednesday” and Resurrection Sunday. The purpose of the season is supposed to be personal and corporate preparation to rightly celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It’s often a time of prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins and self-denial. To some it is a tradition, to others a religious exercise, but I believe it can be an opportunity to be awakened to truth that we often allow our hearts to become dulled toward. This year, as a congregation, I’m praying that Lent be a season to devote ourselves to Jesus by devoting ourselves to the things that He lived in and lived for: the Scripture, fellowship and prayer. I’m praying that corporate prayer and fasting will open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and open our eyes to the work of God in and around us.
A few years ago, as I preached through the book of Deuteronomy, I asked our church to read through the book together. The results were very encouraging. I heard reports of what people -were learning but they were not learning about the commandments, the history of Israel or the personality of Moses. Instead they kept sharing how much they learned about God’s character and about His Fatherhood toward us. I believe that the book of Deuteronomy is a lesson in being awakened to God’s character rather than pleading for God’s action. I believe that is what the totality of Scripture is about, it is not God’s message for us nearly as much as it is His message to us; it is God’s divine revelation of Himself to His children. Moses writes things like; every commandment is for our good and so that God can protect us. He shows that God is so faithful that He forbids Israel to cause any harm or take anything from the descendants of Esau or the descendants of Lot because God had made promises to those men that He would not break no matter what their offspring had become. He shows that God is so concerned with our wellbeing, so committed to provide for and protect us that He leaves no detail uncovered. A great example of this is found in Deuteronomy 22 when God commands that if you come across a bird’s nest that has young birds or eggs and a mother in it that you are not to take the young or eggs and the mother, but you are to let the mother go and take the other for yourself. Many times, we read something like this and think that God just loves rules, but the truth is God just loves us. Why is this command important? Because if we take the mother and the young, we are not allowing for sustained nourishment, by leaving the mother she can reproduce again and in doing so feed us again. God is our Father, His character is love and He is faithful to provide for and protect us, His commands are not to test our allegiance, but they reveal His character toward us.
What would happen if each day we began asking God to awaken us to His loving kindness, to His protection and provision for us, to His nature and character toward us? Wouldn’t it change our attention? Wouldn’t it change our focus, and wouldn’t it prepare us to see God work? Maybe it’s just me but I feel like we often live life completely unaware of God’s presence and on the work He does on our behalf without our even asking. How often do we ask God to come, plead with Him to move and call on Him to take notice of what we were just faced with? What if we started every day with an affirmation that God is with us, God is for us, and that God is already and always protecting and providing for us? What if we reminded ourselves that God will not be surprised by anything that happens today? I can rest in His knowledge and I can trust in His character, while I may face circumstances that I feel unprepared for, He will not and when I face those circumstances, He will be with me and He will be for me because He has chosen to love me. I believe everything would change. I believe we would begin to learn how to rest in God’s character rather than always feeling as if we are calling on His power. Not that calling on His power is wrong or unnecessary, but it has to come from a sense of trust rather than fearful desperation. What if I set my focus so fully on the character of God described in Scripture that I continually was able to see what I was sure of rather than feeling surrounded by questions I can’t answer and fears I can’t possibly quell?
Martin Luther said “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.” I don’t believe that we can ever come to rest in this statement until we have come to believe that willingness is a part of God’s Fatherly character toward us. We don’t need Him to come rushing in and prove Himself again, we need the veil lifted from our eyes and our hearts, we need an awakening to the presence and character of God that is always surrounding us and even dwelling within us; I don’t need God to do more I need to see more of what God is doing.
As we head into Lent, I’m asking that we take this season of preparation and allow God to also make it a season of awakening. I want to offer us a challenge. For the next 40 days let’s prepare our hearts to celebrate Passover, Good Friday and Resurrection Day by praying for a daily awakening to God’s character in and around our lives. Let’s change our outlook on life and our response to life, let’s live day in and day out challenging ourselves to see God, not because He is hidden but because our eyes are dim, and our hearts are often set on lesser things. We often pray for and talk about discernment, it has recently occurred to me that discernment is only an awareness of what is not obvious or clear. In a sin tattered world suffering and pain, death and disease, rejection and loneliness, anxiety and fear are obvious, it takes no discernment to see those. Let’s spend the next 40 days praying every single morning for the discernment to see grace and mercy, hope and love, generosity and kindness, gentleness and joy, truth and life; for the discernment to see the presence, character and Person of God within and around us. I am praying that this Lent will be a season of awakening our souls to see that the Lamb who was slain for us is always and forever Immanuel, the God who is with us; we don’t have to beg Him to come, we can ask Him to awaken us to the reality that all His actions are only the result of His abiding presence. He’s always here, let’s ask Him to do whatever is necessary in our hearts and our lives so that we can be here with Him.