“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
I love that the Lenten season has not been hijacked by the culture. We don’t see Ash Wednesday midnight sales, there are no Good Friday disguised as Black Friday specials advertising internet sales sites, there are no cute displays at the malls or in the midst of our town centers featuring young children in sack cloths and ashes. No, we get this season all to ourselves and for that I am grateful.
We are now in the second week of Lent. Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The season of Lent is 40 days because that’s how long Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Before Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he was immersed in the love of God (Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2).
Jesus was immersed in the love of God and then the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. We are told in the gospel of Mark that “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him” (Mark 1:12-13).
When the 40 days were over Luke tells us, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14).
When I read, “return to me with all your heart” I actually sense the longing deep down inside to slow down and examine the places in my heart that have gone to a “far country.” I find when I slow down to examine my own heart I am pining to return to a loving God with outstretched arms waiting eagerly for the pieces of my heart to return. I begin to get in touch with the bit by bit pieces of my heart that have gone into hiding because of hurt, busyness, sin, shame, guilt, and the multitude of reasons my heart moves away from the love of God.
My starting place for examining my heart is being grounded in the love of God. This comes to me by faith, a gift of the Spirit. This gift of faith enables me to believe with my entire being that God’s love for me is unconditional and no matter how far from God I travel, God is there waiting for me. Psalm 139 speaks to this. I surrender to the love of God and then I begin to allow the Spirit to examine my life and find if there be any way I need to be brought back into the fullness of God’s love for me, my neighbor and the world.
The text says we can return to God “with fasting and mourning and weeping.” There are many disciplines we can practice during lent. The classic disciplines are fasting, prayer and serving/almsgiving. Fasting from food or other areas of abstinence the Lord might be inviting you to practice will often break the power of food (or social media or…) and will increase spiritual frequency. There are many ways to pray. Perhaps you might spend time in contemplative prayer, just being with God, or maybe you might spend time praying for others in your life; family, friends, your church community, those in your life that seem far from God. Service/Almsgiving during Lent can be done in many ways. During lent we give things up and we give to those in need. If you fast from food, could you save the money you would have spent and give it to a local cause that feeds the hungry, or are their places in your neighborhood, perhaps your own neighbors who might need help?
“Return” speaks to me of repentance. Repentance is when we realize we are not living in the way of Jesus, we get in touch with our sin, and then in light of what God says about those things we turn toward God and ask the Spirit to enable us to live in God’s way. As you spend time with God, discern where are the ways I need to return and then ask the Spirit to fill you and empower you to live in that way.
The practice of fasting or abstinence might mean if we struggle with pride, we might practice saying no to those things that feed our ego.
If we struggle with gossip or negative speech, we might practice time in silence and or a silent retreat.
If we struggle with gluttony around anything, we may want to consider some level of fasting from the thing we indulge in.
You get the idea. I would invite you this week to spend some time with the Lord asking what causes parts of your heart to be far from God asking the question, “How will I repent and return to God?”
Joining God in the renewal of all things,