Discipline without desire causes drudgery
"Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!"? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person's evil desires.
Lenten season begins today and is the 6 week period of time celebrated on the traditional Christian calendar prior to Easter. The purpose of the season is further consecration and dedication towards Jesus Christ. In order to do that, there was often a temporary cessation of certain pre-selected activities that were understood to interfere with the consecration process. In the medieval world, this was most often fasting from meat as meat was seen as a luxury and it was felt that luxurious indulgences interfered with the soul's ability to connect with God.
Fast forward to our contemporary arena, where the build up towards the Lenten season gets more emphasis than Lent itself. The celebrations leading up to "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Ash Wednesday which initiates the Lenten season) has far more attention in the media and with our marketers than Lent will ever have. Mardi Gras were concocted as one last indulgence in pleasurable activities that would be set aside during the Lenten season. As you know, it has snowballed into a license for overindulgence in every activities that can even remotely bring pleasure. There is no connection with any idea of consecration, meditation, or the sacrifice of Jesus.
I often hear people who have no faith background say that they are "giving up" something for lent. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but the purpose of lent was not simply to build or establish personal discipline, but to participate in spiritual disciplines in order to experience Jesus and grow a deeper appreciation for his life, death, and resurrection.
I want to make a few quick observations that I hope will help you during this Lenten season:
1. Discipline without a deeper desire to know God benefits you little. While there is physical, emotional, and even social benefits from fasting, particularly if within a group, it benefits you very little and is difficult to sustain unless it is tied to a goal that is bigger than yourself (I Tim 4:8). Believe it or not, the true reason for fasting is to enhance your relationship with God through eliminating practices, mindsets, and possessions that hinder its intimacy.
2. Pleasure without purpose robs you of joy and respect. God is not anti-pleasure but He recognizes that pleasure is a cheap substitute for joy. Seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure often leaves us feeling empty. Its interesting that pleasure never actually fulfills its promise, but always leaves us looking for a more complete type of pleasure. This is the cycle that we see in addiction. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author states that he refused himself nothing that was pleasurable but still found that "everything was meaningless".(Ecc 2:10-11).
3. Lent is a time for self-inventory: Where is your relationship with God going? Are you growing deeper or distant? Do you have an appreciation for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that influences and affects every realm of your life? Lent is a time in which we can do an honest self-assessment and rededicate ourselves to growing closer to God.
4. Lent is a time for soul detox!: We build up habits or relationships that keep us from experiencing the presence and power of God continually. We actually need to set aside time for a regular detox. Maybe its what we watch on TV, a relationship or the priority of an activity has come in the way of the time and energy that we would normally devote to God. If you recognize that, then you will know what needs to be avoided during your Lenten celebration.
This Lenten season I:
pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19)
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor