By faith, Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise Him up, even from the dead; from whence also He received Him in a figure. – Hebrews 11:17-19
The story of Abraham’s testing in Genesis 22 is one of the most famous stories about his life. After waiting many years for God to fulfill His promise of a son, imagine Abraham’s shock when God asked him to sacrifice his “only son” to him. Immediately Abraham set off in faith to obey God but as Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and provided a sacrificial ram in Isaac’s place.
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God reminds us of how God has done the same for us. God gave His “only Son”, Jesus, to die for us a sacrifice for our sins. If God is willing to sacrifice the one He loves most, why would we not offer everything, even our lives, as living sacrifices back to Him?
WHAT IS LENT – THE MEANING OF TIME SET ASIDE
Lent invites us to prepare our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Starting from Ash Wednesday (February 22nd, 2023) to Easter Sunday (9th April, 2023), Lent is a 40-day season of making sacrifices (not counting Sundays) and marked by repentance, fasting, abstinence, reflection, and ultimately celebration.
The 40-day period represents Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, where He fasted and was tempted by Satan. Lent offers Christians the opportunity to focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.
HONOURING THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS
During the Lenten season, we are expected to make sacrifices, as children of God and followers of Christ. The sacrifices should remind us of the one made by Jesus through which He has saved us from sin and won for us salvation of our souls.
Many Christians traditionally give up (sacrifice) something they value or enjoy in order to honour His sacrifice and to prepare themselves for His coming death, resurrection and victory over Satan. The sacrifice does not have to be something extraordinary. It may mean cutting down on our excesses on a daily basis and allowing God’s grace to reign in our lives.
These Lenten sacrifices can end up becoming traditions instead of acts of spiritual commitment and focus. Like all spiritual practices, it comes down to the motivation in our hearts. Are we doing this for God or are we just doing this for ourselves?
Jesus said in Matthew 6:17- 18, “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus reminds us that when we fast or sacrifice for Him we do not need to let others know or announce it in a way that brings attention on ourselves.
PRACTISING LENT TODAY
Here are some of the key elements of the Lenten season, along with some of the symbolism that comes with it. Many of these practices can be celebrated both individually and as a community:
1. Purple: Like Advent, the official colour for Lent is purple. Usually, churches that celebrate Lent choose the deepest, darkest shade of purple for this special season. They may also strip their churches bare of some of the usual decorations adorning the walls. Purple is the colour of repentance for sins and also symbolises the state of our souls outside the light of Christ. During this time, pray for those who do not know Christ and for those who have sinned gravely against Him.
2. Confession: The 40 days are set aside to really examine areas of recurring sin in our lives that prevent us from being conformed to God’s Will.
Keep in mind the idea here is not to be overly scrupulous or to deceive ourselves into thinking we can earn heaven through our own goodness. The goal is to honestly examine our lives in the light of God’s Word and to make a commitment to change in any areas we have not submitted to the Lord. A good way to start an examination of conscience is by praying Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Then, hold up your life to the Ten Commandments. Confess, perhaps even to your pastor or an accountability partner (James 5:16), the ways you’ve sinned against God, thank Him for His forgiveness, and ask Him for the grace to change.
3. Fasting and Prayer: Fasting is a practice that has really gone by the wayside in many Christian circles. Yet, if done correctly, it can be a powerful time of renewing our relationship with God. Fasting can be found in both the Old Testament and the New, with Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and our Lord (Matthew 4:2) all participating in 40-day fasts. Fasting is a way of denying ourselves the excesses of life so that we might be more attuned to the Lord’s voice. It is also a way of disciplining ourselves, strengthening our “spiritual muscles” so to speak so that when temptations arise in life, you are already used to saying “no” to your desires. And finally, fasting is also a way of participating, in a small way, in the sufferings of Christ and can be particularly powerful when accompanied by prayer and confession.
4. Meditating on Christ’s Sacrifice for Mankind: In addition to periodic fasting and prayer, our scriptural meditations typically turn to the salvation offered to us through Christ’s suffering. Read Old Testament Scriptures prophesying the suffering of Christ and the New Testament Gospel accounts.
5. Charity/Almsgiving: A very important element of the Lenten season is becoming aware of not only the suffering and sacrifice of Christ but also to the suffering of others. Between now and Good Friday, choose one way you can increase your giving to those in need. It could be through extra financial offerings, donating goods you no longer need or use to charity, or increasing your personal time commitment to a ministry or cause close to your heart.
So let us honour God this Lenten season by giving up the sin in our lives “that so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!” (Hebrews 12:2) Let us focus on prayer and being obedient to His commands instead!
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By Dr. Joyce Aryee, the author