Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lent: Awareness of Desire

“Lent is a season of waiting. In that sense it is like Advent. But while Advent waits eagerly for the appearance of the Savior, Lent waits, with heavy responsibility, for his death.”
--Noel Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Some years, Lent sneaks up on me, and we're several days into it before I decide what I'm going to give up (if I haven't already done it or eaten it). This year, for whatever reason, Lent has been on my mind for quite a while. I've been watching for Ash Wednesday with anticipation, and now it's almost here.

In junior high, the idea of giving something up for Lent was a novelty. I'll never forget watching friends of mine punch the center out of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and carefully peel all the chocolate off so they could still eat the peanut butter, having given up chocolate for Lent. It always struck me as a little...bizarre. Needless to say, the focus wasn't spiritual; it was more fad than fast.

This year, perhaps more than ever, I have a clearer understanding of Lent (thanks to a book I recently read) and a deeper desire to turn away from self and turn toward the cross. These two quotes are helpful in explaining why I think it's beneficial to give something up for Lent, in a way I never could articulate before:
"In some churches, fasting has been a traditional way of expressing dependence on God during Lent. …The practice may be nothing more than legalism, or on the other hand, it can be a way of saying, ‘Oh, God, I want you more than I want any of the good things in my life—food, videos, crossword puzzles, shopping, etc. You are the one who fulfills my desires.’ …Whether it’s a fast from some particular food or meal or from some activity…we need to remember that fasting is two-sided. It’s not just turning away from something for a while, but it is also turning toward God." (Noel Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions)

Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us. Fasting reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us—or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God. A real lived-out human act of preference for God over his gifts is the actual lived-out glorification of God’s excellence for which he created the world. Fasting is not the only way, or the main way, that we glorify God in preferring him above his gifts. But it is one way.
(John Piper, A Hunger for God)

I'm painfully aware that many things have mastery over me. My hunger for God is shamefully small and weak in light of His greatness and His ability alone to satisfy my deepest needs. But I'm hopeful, because His Word promises that if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). As I let go of some blessings over the next few weeks, I pray God will deepen my love for Him and show me how He alone can satisfy the desires of my heart.

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