(A six-minute read)
Lent is a time of heading into the light. But it’s the light at the end of a tunnel. A 40-day tunnel, of repentance, prayer and fasting. That’s the theory anyway, that the light is there. I can’t see it from here, but I’ll walk the tracks knowing that the light will arrive before the train.
Some years I’ve done this lenten walk better than others. This year I am wholly intent. I need to bring myself low for a while. It’s time to remove some bad spiritual habits to make room for better ones. This is all preparation for greater challenges to come.
Just to be clear: Lent is not a religious obligation. Lent is a man-made thing; it ain’t in the Bible. Nevertheless, it is a useful man-made thing because it allows me to humble myself voluntarily. The Lord is kind to me when I do that. He loves the process.
The other method, where He forces me out of my own stupid mistakes, or hard-headedness or (worse) hard-heartedness, is much more painful. Been there, done that, am wearing the scars.
But at least they are scars from pruning. God nips off the useless bits so I grow better and bear more fruit later.1
I’ll skip the details about this year’s walk because they are less important than acknowledging the process. It’s one I wrote about a couple years ago, and which is worth revisiting here.
When I came out of radiotherapy at the beginning of 2020 I began a 40-day devotional by Harold Myra based on the writings of Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite monk featured in a now-beloved tract called ‘The Practice of the Presence of God.’ It’s a combination of conversations he had with his friend Father Joseph de Beaufort and letters Brother Lawrence wrote to others.
A seemingly impossible task
The essence of his teaching is how to align myself for an ongoing conversation with God. In those moments when I forget (and they are frequent!) I simply come back round, apologize for turning away, and start over. God’s grace is endless for this, because He greatly desires to be in a relationship with me, with you, with all of us.
In one famous passage it’s written of Brother Lawrence, ‘that he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.’
How can I come to such a simple and unassuming place in life?
Brother Lawrence taught me how: go forward by going backward. Define the goal and then step backward to where I stand. Then I retrace those steps back to the goal. I have a lifetime to arrive.
When I first approach God I’m in an unregenerate state (that’s a fancy theological word meaning I’m not born again in Christ). I’m stubborn and sinful, and stand obstinately in opposition, refusing to accept His love.
Then, for some reason, perhaps a personal crisis, perhaps an ‘aha’ moment, perhaps the silent inward working of the Holy Spirit, I decide to respond to God’s invitation and pursue Him.
That pursuit can only come after a long sequence of changes in me, as I retrace the steps toward the goal. Here’s how it works.
A process for pursuing God
I can’t pursue God until I desire Him.
However, I can’t desire Him until my desire for other things lessens.2
My desire for other things doesn’t diminish until I recognize who I truly am (in Christ).3
That true identity doesn’t become clear until I understand why I was created.4
An understanding of my purpose in life only appears when I decide my way isn’t working, and I humble myself to receive God’s grace.5
It’s a not-so-vicious circle. It began on my knees, and it actually took me somewhere. The Bible instructs us to do things ‘heartily as for the Lord’ and not for men.6 So even if I’m doing work for someone else, I pursue it as though I’m serving Christ directly. Even if I am merely picking up a piece of straw.
The phrase ‘as for the Lord’ in the Modern English Version is rendered ‘as to the Lord’ in the New King James and ‘as though you were working for the Lord’ in the New Living Translation. The Passion Translation suggests ‘as though you were doing it for the Lord Himself.’ The Message Bible reveals that I should ‘work from the heart for my real Master.’
Through it all, I must remain conscious of my imperfection. God can only use me if I’m aware of how inadequate I am. I stand best when I stand on my knees.
1. John 15:1-22 – ‘I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit, He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.’
2. 1 John 2:15 – ‘Do not love the world of the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’
3. Romans 8:5-6 – ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.’
4. Proverbs 19:21 – ‘There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord will stand.’
5. Psalm 38:17:18 – ‘For I am ready to stumble, and my pain is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I am anxious because of my sin.’
6. Colossians 3:23-24 – ‘And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ.’