I enjoyed Ann Voskamp’s Advent Devotional “The Greatest Gift”, so I went to her blog, A Holy Experience, today to see what she might be posting for Lent. She’s got a devotional post today from John 4:13-14 (part of a year-long Scripture memory project of passages from John’s Gospel).
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.
The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In reflecting on that passage, she identifies a key question to be asking on Ash Wednesday, and throughout the 40 days of Lent:
Maybe the one big question to be asking myself on Ash Wednesday is:
Give up something or don’t — the point is:
How am I giving more of myself to Jesus?
Here’s more from Ann Voskamp on Lent, including information on how to download her free short Lent / Easter family devotional “Trail to the Tree.”
He was raised between the heaven and the earth, as though both rejected Him, despised by men and refused by God.
And as though abuse were not vile enough, they covered Him with spittle.
And as though spittle were not contemptuous enough, they plucked out His beard.
And as though plucking out His beard was not brutal enough, they drove in great nails.
And as though the nails did not pierce deeply enough, He was crowned with thorns.
And as though the thorns were not agonizing enough, He was pierced through with a Roman spear.
It was earth’s saddest hour, and it was humanity’s deepest, darkest day.
At three o’clock in the afternoon it was all over. The Lord of life bowed His head and the light of the world flickered out.
Tread softly around the cross, for Jesus is dead. Repeat the refrain in hushed and softened tones: the Lord of life is dead.
The lips that spoke forth Lazarus from the grave are now stilled in the silence of death, and the head that was anointed by Mary of Bethany is bowed with its crown of thorns.
The eyes that wept over Jerusalem are glazed in death, and the hands that blessed little children are nailed to a tree.
And the feet that walked on the waters of blue Galilee are fastened to a cross, and the heart that went out in compassionate love and sympathy for the poor and the lost of the world is now broken; He is dead.
The infuriated mob that cried for His crucifixion gradually disperses; He is dead.
And the passersby who stop just to see Him go on their way; He is dead.
The Pharisees, rubbing their hands in self-congratulation, go back to the city; He is dead.
And the Sadducees, breathing sighs of relief, return to their coffers in the temple; He is dead.
The centurion assigned the task of executing Him makes his official report to the Roman procurator, “He is dead.”
And the four, the quaternion of soldiers sent to dispatch the victims, seeing the Man on the center cross was certainly dead, brake not His bones, but pierce Him through with a spear; He is dead.
And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin go personally to Pontius Pilate and beg of the Roman governor His body, because He is dead.
Mary His mother and the women with her are bowed in sobs and in tears; He is dead.
And the eleven apostles, like frightened sheep, crawl into eleven shadows to hide from the pointing finger of Jerusalem and they cry, “He is dead!”
Wherever His disciples met, in an upper room, or on a lonely road, or behind closed doors, or in hiding places, the same refrain is sadly heard, “He is dead. He is in a tomb; they have sealed the grave and set a guard; He is dead.”
It would be almost impossible for us to enter into the depths of despair that gripped their hearts.
Simon Peter, the rock, is a rock no longer.
And James and John, the sons of Boanerges, are sons of thunder no longer.
And Simon the Zealot is a zealot no longer.
He is dead, and the hope of the world has perished with Him.
Then, then, then…
- W.A. Criswell (1909 – 2002)
Man’s maker was made man . . . that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey, that Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.
St. Augustine, Sermons 191.1
From today’s devotional entry at the Trinity School for Ministry website. Today’s entry at TSM is by the Rev. Dr. Martha Giltinan
There is no sorrow, no loss, no betrayal or fear that Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, has not endured on our behalf. He has drunk the cup already to the last bitter dregs. Now the cup we are offered has been sweetened by what He has accomplished, the gall of death has been removed. We could never have borne that bitter cup, one sip would have destroyed us. He, who condescended in love to take upon Himself the helpless reality of our humanity, has taken up the bitter cup and drunk it to the last. He has taken within himself the rancid and deadly consequence of our rebellion. By doing so, He has neutralized its power for all time over those who cling to Him.
Jesus has consecrated himself in suffering and death precisely for this very purpose; “that [we] also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). That through His blood, we might live the life that is Life indeed.
Savior, thank you that You have not left me to fend for myself, let me hide myself in Your side, trusting in the work that You have accomplished and continue to extend on my behalf. I take the bread, Your body, I drink the cup, Your blood, and I give You thanks that You have vanquished my enemy and lift me up as Your own, in victory and love.
From today’s prayer by Scotty Smith at his blog, Heavenward, these beautiful words about Maundy Thursday:
Your disrobing to wash their feet was with a full view to your being stripped naked to wash their hearts, and our hearts as well. What wondrous love is this indeed! How wide, long, high, and deep, is your love for the ill-deserving.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). This is the new and never-ending mandate we’re now under as your disciples. Grace doesn’t free us from this command, but for this command. Don’t let me ever forget that the measure of your love is not just the basin and towel of the upper room, but your cross and your death at Calvary. There simply is no greater love to be found—none.
Lent is a season where many of us devote ourselves to a discipline of more regular and in-depth Scripture study. This quotation from St. John Chrysostom reminds us why it is so important!
Let us give diligent heed to the study of Scripture. For in the tumult of life it will save you from suffering like those who are tossed by troubled waves. The sea rages, but you sail on with calm weather; for you have the study of the Scriptures for your pilot; this is the cable which the trials of life do not break asunder.
Let our soul weigh anchor in the reading of Scripture. For the study of Scripture is a haven without waves, a tower that is unshakeable, a glory that cannot be wrested away from anybody, a weapon that cannot be defeated, a joy that does not pall. In reading Scripture, the soul is relieved from harm, and enjoys much calm and peace.
~ St. John Chrysostom
Remember what I say: if you would cleave to earthly pleasures, these are the things which murder souls. There is no surer way to get a seared conscience and a hard impenitent heart, than to give way to the desires of the flesh and mind. It seems nothing at first, but it tells in the long run.
Consider what Peter says: “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2.11). They destroy the soul’s peace, break down its strength, lead it into hard captivity, make it a slave.
Consider what Paul says: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Colossians 3.5). “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5.24). “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9.27). Once the body was a perfect mansion of the soul; now it is all corrupt and disordered, and needs constant watching. It is a burden to the soul- not a helpmeet; a hindrance- not an assistance. It may become a useful servant, but it is always a bad master.
Consider, again, the words of Paul: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13.14). “These,” says Leighton, “are the words, the very reading of which so wrought with Augustine, that from a licentious young man he turned a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.”
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900, England)
A good reminder during Lent - morification of the flesh should be our DAILY WORK:
”The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin. So the apostle, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col 3:5). To whom does he speak? Such as were “risen with Christ” (v. 1); such as we’re dead with him (v. 3); such as whose life Christ was and who should “appear with him in glory” (v. 4). Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work.”
John Owen: (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, 50)
“Thus says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (2.12). Please note the phrase “with all your heart,” which means from the very core of our thoughts and feelings, from the roots of our decisions, choices and actions, with a gesture of total and radical freedom. But is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy. The prophet says: “return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment” (v. 13). It is possible to return to the Lord, it is a ‘grace’, because it is the work of God and the fruit of faith that we entrust to His mercy. But this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that “rends the heart”.
Lent, then, is not really about self-examination and agonizing over sin, so much as renewing our vows to live as faithful followers of the Lamb, and in the process to love him with all our heart and soul and strength and mind. Do that, and the problem of sin will take care of itself as the Holy Spirit works within us to bring it about. Lent, far from a time for moping and introspection, is a time for joy.
The Rev. David S. Fischler (DMin Student)
Associate Pastor Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Kingstowne, Virginia
This is excerpted from the Feb. 14th Lenten Devotional published by Trinity School for Ministry. I encourage you to go read the whole entry!
Here too is the devotional’s closing prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, I praise and thank You for what You have already done for me in Your incarnate life, Your atoning sacrifice, and Your triumphant resurrection. Take my eyes off myself, and focus them firmly on You, that my whole life might proclaim Your love and grace. Amen.
Dean Robert Munday of Nashotah House seminary posted an excellent comment about Lent at the blog Stand Firm. His words provide a great perspective on what Lent should really be all about:
We would do well to remember the purposes for which Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the wilderness. He had no sins for which he needed to atone. We have no sins for which we are capable of atoning. If we could, what He did for us—what He had to do for us—would not have been necessary.
In a holy Lent, we need to spend time being reminded of our need to trust in the providence of God (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”), the supremacy of God (“Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only”), and the sufficiency of His Word (“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”).
So Lent is really much more about what God adds to our lives as we spend intentional, focused time with Him rather than what we give up, because the Gospel is always about what God has done for us, not about what we do for Him.
Update: Dean Munday expanded on his comment in a post at his blog. Here’s the link to his entry.
Mark Galli wrote an excellent essay on Lent for Christianity Today in 2012 called “Giving up Self-Discipline.” Somehow I missed it last year.
I was particularly struck by his remarks suggesting that often our Lenten Disciplines, instead of being God-focused, are merely just disguised “self-improvement” routines:
Lent is supposed to have more spiritual overtones than the mere self-improvement mantras of New Year’s. But I suspect that for many of us, Lenten disciplines are more about us than about God. More about getting our act together in some area that continually discourages us and repeatedly sabotages our self-respect. The advantage of Lent over New Year’s resolutions is that we can bring God to our side, and the whole church is there to cheer us on. But for many of us, I suspect, it’s one big self-improvement regimen, with God as mere personal coach.
I think that’s often very true! Read the whole essay.
May Lent 2013 be an opportunity to fall in love with our Savior afresh and to rejoice in His daily grace, even as we become more aware of our own weaknesses and pettiness.