Lent: Dried Out in the Wilderness
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day season known as Lent. Growing up in the church, this seemed like a foreign holiday; I didn’t understand it. My childhood church did not recognize it, and the only ones who observed it were my Roman Catholic friends. The season seemed odd, at best, and heretical, at worst, as the focus for many of my friends was on striving to earn God’s favor through self-sacrifices. Images of Martin Luther’s guilt-driven penance and laments would frequently come to my mind. The many audacious stories of Mardi Gras did not help matters.
As I got older, I was surprised to find that many PCA churches recognize Lent as part of a universal church calendar. These churches often describe Lent as a season of wilderness and renewal. For them, the purpose behind Lent is not to earn God’s favor but instead to refocus our hearts on our desperate need for Jesus. The 40-day period mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the very beginning of His earthly ministry. In Mark’s gospel, witnesses hear the most tremendous statement of their lives: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Then immediately, Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness. This time in the wilderness was extremely difficult, dwelling in the lifeless desert, surrounded by dangerous animals, and disconnected from friends and family. The wilderness serves as a significant place of preparation for Jesus’ ministry.
The Lord uses the wilderness in many ways throughout Scripture. To name a few: in the wilderness He meets with His people, like He did at Mount Sinai; the Lord protects His servants there, as He did with David and Elijah. In the wilderness He dries us out so that we will thirst for real, living water. The Lord uses the wilderness - the dried out and weary places in our worlds.
While the wilderness is a physical place, it is appropriate for us to consider the areas of desolation in our hearts and lives. Many of us feel the need to survive right now, rather than the joy of thriving. What was hard at the beginning of 2020 feels even weightier today. Perhaps this is a time when we should consider the season of Lent as a season of wilderness. The Lord refines and sanctifies His people through the wilderness. In these days when our needs are so much more pronounced, we should eagerly seek to meet with the Lord daily, to lean on His protection, and return to Him to sustain us. Remember Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, a woman who was desperately thirsty for more than just water: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” May the Lord refresh you in this challenging season with His faithful love.
~ Pastor Bennett