Are You a Better Christian?

((from Kate))

“How we love you, HOW WE LOVE YOU.
How we want you, HOW WE WANT YOU.”
Blares on repeat through my headphones as I sit outside in the sun and pause to close my eyes and lay my palms open, surely confusing other patrons at this downtown coffee shop.

I desperately want Him.
I’m not so sure that I love Him with the same fervor.
Both of which have been made very apparent to me this Lenten season.

“Lent” might be a word thrown around in your churches or conversations, but what is it exactly? It’s the time to prepare our hearts before we arrive at Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Considering the Christ we’ve chosen – had He not died for us there’d be no salvation… had He not risen from the dead He would’ve been a liar whose ministry and words are void. So, as we approach the two most important days of reflection and reality in the Christian calendar… it should be done intentionally and reverently.

There is something that should be sobering and sickening as we approach the cross where He was crucified. What the King of the Universe did for us is almost unfathomable. He was tortured. To death. For us.

And in the greatest miracle of the universe, that man rose again because He is INDEED GOD.

Communion, whether you partake weekly or monthly, is a time of reflection. Advent is a joyous season that precedes our celebration of Christ’s birth. But how can we truly prepare ourselves inside of Lent?

The answer that most are familiar with is one of fasting – giving something up for forty days. The conversations swirling in my ears have been friends and students announcing that they’ve given up coffee, and sweets, and social media. I’m not saying any of that is wrong or right… A couple of years ago I fasted for ten days consuming only vegetables, fruits, and water as a spiritual discipline.

But, here’s what I wonder…
Am I a “less than” Christian if I am not abstaining from a “thing” during these 40 days?
Am I a “better” Christian if I do?

“The Lenten season developed as part of the historical Christian calendar and is typically celebrated by Catholics and some mainline Protestant churches that follow a liturgical calendar. Although its format has varied throughout the centuries and throughout different cultures, the basic concept remains the same: to open our hearts to God’s refining grace through prayer, confession, fasting, and almsgiving as we anticipate Holy Week. Lent traditionally lasts forty days, modeled after Christ’s forty day fast in the desert, and ends on Good Friday. In the Western Church, Lent officially begins with a reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday.” says and that’s a well-written quick summation. The emphasis, I would direct our attention to, is that it’s about our hearts.

How many of us are ardent rule-followers? Maybe you grew up in a military family or a Southern Baptist church, but for many of us years of our lives were spent intensely committed to the “do’s” and “don’ts” that would either please or disappoint our God. So, if there’s an equation or a checklist to be given, my grabby little hands will reach out for it. There is a bathtub-size dousing of guilt and fear and anxiety that regularly washes over my relationship with the Lord. My soul’s become prune-y from the constant scouring.

In the past I’ve tried to give up everything from carbs, Starbucks, and lust for these 40 days, and all it did was give me a “thing” to give God so He’d give me something in return. His love? His presence? A free-pass from His anger?

For many of my friends who love the Lord, He isn’t present in their every single thought of every waking ((and many sleeping)) moments, and so those opportunities where fasting reminds of what we really crave are helpful to direct their thoughts to the Sustainer. I support that 1,000% and your fellow Hopers will be sharing throughout this week what it is that they’ve given up and why.

But He is in my every thought, I have never been able to turn off the God-reel that loops in my brain, and it isn’t always great. Many times my incorrect theology of His absence or anger is what weighs heavily on my heart. Many times it’s my internal (and often out-loud) screaming for His presence (as the enemy has convinced me that God’s left my side) that plays on repeat. And as I’ve reflected on my choice not to give up a “thing” this Lenten season, it’s because no “thing” (or it’s absence) is going to drive me to want Him more. Friends, I already want Him DESPERATELY.

But my “why” in the not giving up something made me nervous to share, because am I just being lazy?

As I’ve meditated on that thought, the truth is, yes and no. 
Isn’t that infuriating? The many layers of Christianity could out-layer an onion parfait.

What will flood my awareness of His presence is more time in His word. And when I shirk that time, I can rationalize and rant about the grace and freedom I should give myself to excuse de-prioritizing time reading Scripture, but the truth is I’m being lazy and oftentimes selfish. So the same fists railing at the sky claiming God isn’t near are the same fists refusing to uncurl to flip the pages of my Bible open.

This Lenten season for me needs to be not about what I am fasting from/giving up and instead about preparing my heart on purpose towards the Cross and the empty tomb by settling in to spend more time with the One who was nailed… the One who rose again… the One who saved me and the One who deserves all of my desperation.

Friends, whether preparing your heart for Easter means fasting to focus or feasting on Him, may the emphasis be on HIM and not on whether we are a less-than or better Christian than our brothers & sisters. At the end of these forty days I hope we all arrive at Good Friday wanting, knowing, and loving Him even more.

“‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” Joel 2:12-13

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