If you are like me, you grew up in a section of Christianity that did not observe Lent. I’m from a background that largely did one of two things with Lent, ignored it as unnecessary or rejected it as religious, or for some, probably sacrilegious. For those that aren’t aware, Lent is a nearly 6-week period between Ash Wednesday and Holy or Maundy Thursday. It is a season of preparation, preparing one’s heart and life to rightly celebrate the sacrifice of Christ at the cross and then His victorious resurrection from the grave. Lent is typically marked by fasting and sacrifice, sacrificing for Christ because He has sacrificed Himself for us. I understand that if we are not careful Lent can become more of a penance than a thanksgiving, that it can take on the form of trying to earn Christ’s love and approval, but I also believe that it can be one of the greatest ways to discover afresh and anew just how good and rich God’s character and heart toward us has always been.
One of the verses that is making the most impact on my heart in this season of my life is Deuteronomy 8:3, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Moses was explaining to the people of Israel, those that had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years but were now about to go into the Promised Land that their journey had been perfectly planned by God.
Hunger isn’t something that we often see as God’s will. When we think of the steps ordered by God, we usually envision them as being comfortable and well fed. God was teaching something very important, hunger is the door that leads to more. It’s not only that Israel didn’t know they needed manna until they ran out of their stored food, it’s that they didn’t know they needed God until they could no longer take care of themselves. That sounds foolish. They had witnessed God perform 10 miraculous plagues. After 430 years of slavery they had left Egypt overnight with wealth that they didn’t possess just a few days before. They had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and then watched the sea close on their enemies destroying the army of Egypt. They were following God’s presence every moment of every day in a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day. They knew God was with them, but they still didn’t know God was for them.
How do I know that? Every time they ran out of their own resources they panicked. They came to a place with bitter water, so they complained about Moses. Moses prayed and God healed the water. Then they ran out of food and they said it would have been better to stay in slavery where they had plenty of food than to come out and die in the desert. Moses prayed and God sent manna, bread that appeared miraculously 6 days a week from heaven. They ran out of water again, this time they didn’t just complain the Bible says they fought with Moses and asked, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Moses prayed and God brought water out of a rock. This wasn’t the last time this happened, but the point is, every time Israel faced hunger, every time they faced thirst, every time they faced discomfort, they feared that they would die. They didn’t know that God was for them even though they could see that God was with them.
God uses hunger to teach us things we couldn’t learn in our comfort. He wanted Israel to feel the pangs of hunger, to feel the discomfort of not having enough, to experience the emotions and hear the lies of anxiety, so that He could teach them something they didn’t know, that He was not just with them, that He was for them. Moses said, “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” He wanted Israel to learn that they could trust Him, to believe that He would not harm them, to find out for themselves that He Himself, His presence, His favor and His love were all that they would ever need. He wanted them to find out that His words, the things He said to them, about them and over them, would always be enough to satisfy them, but they could not know that until He showed them that the things they currently hoped in were not enough for them.
I fast during Lent, I find an area of my life where I’ve become comfortable, where I’ve become dependent and I set it aside for nearly six weeks, not so that I can prove to God that I love Him, but so that I can learn something about God’s love that I don’t know yet, something that I can’t know until I let Him create hunger. Believe it or not, I’ve come to enjoy the hunger. It’s not because blessing is on its way, I enjoy the hunger because it’s almost like a detox for my soul. I can literally feel myself letting go of a tie that was bound too tight, of a good thing that I had given the wrong place, of a contentment that had grown into complacency. If you practice Lent every year or if you’ve never done it before, I’d encourage you to consider it this year. For me this season has become this upside down place in which I pray for hunger rather than to be filled, where I ask to feel discomfort so that I can find comfort in Christ, where I willingly let the Spirit and the Word shake away old things, both good and less than good, so that I can learn something new. Sometimes the only way to learn that Jesus is enough is to let go of everything other than Jesus.