Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us to practice Lent.
It isn’t an “I ought,”
It’s an “I can.”
This year we will journey together to higher ground.
In the next three days, each of us will ask God
to give us His plan for our individual journey,
and then, this Wednesday, which is officially Ash Wednesday,
we will begin, together, cheering one another on,
picking one another up when we fall,
for we will,
but we will get up and continue in a long
obedience in the same direction, ending on March 31.
40 days excluding Sundays.
Here is the plan:
Counselor David Powlison explains that “anytime something bad comes out of your life our mouth, a heart idol is operating.” A heart idol is a way you are trying to meet your needs independently of God. For example, instead of running to God for comfort or approval, you find your own means independently and in rebellion against God to have those needs met. Here are a few examples:
You have been legitimately hurt by another, and though you know God asks you to forgive, you do so half-heartedly. Obedience to God is often hard at first, because forgiveness means you pay the price of letting someone off the hook who doesn’t deserve to be off the hook. Even though Christ did that for you, you will not give up control. So you nurse the grudge, thinking about why you are right and this person is wrong, you tell others about the offense, and you complain. This eats away at you for heart idols are not our friends. You are in bondage.
You are stressed by life, and though You know God promises to be your comfort and promises peace if you set your mind on Him, it’s faster to run to food or masturbation, which provides quick temporary relief, but also, put you in bondage. These guilty pleasures become addictive and bring you down.
You feel you have gotten the short end of the stick in marriage, in money, or at work. Instead of trusting what God has allowed and setting your affections on Him, you resent Him and everyone who has what you do not. Your thought life is consumed by jealousy or imagining a different life. Again, bondage.
Our idols lie to us, promising relief but actually bringing bondage. When anything bad comes out of our life, we will be continually asking ourselves:
- What need am I trying to meet independently of God?
- How can I turn to God and trust Him to meet this need?
On Monday and Tuesday, I want you to identity a common temptation and besetting sin, and then identify the heart idol beneath the sin. This is where we will begin to practice repentance (turning) and faith (running to God). We want to walk in the light as He is in the light, and as soon as we realize we’ve stepped out, repent and run to Him in faith. By asking our soul what need we are trying to meet independently of God, we will first identify the sin beneath the sin.
We have learned that heart idols cannot be removed, but only replaced by God. On Wednesday we will begin our journey together. We will be in Isaiah during this Lent. We were there last year too, looking at the Servant’s Songs, but we only had time to take a cup of water from this ocean of beauty and wisdom. Isaiah is the gem of the prophets, the book Jesus turned to when He began His ministry, the book that inspired The Messiah, and yet many of have have not plumbed its depth. By spending time with Him in the Word, we are availing ourselves of the strength, wisdom, and love we need to replace our idols. Jesus calls us:
What we long for is for Him to replace our idols, to fill us so up with Him, that we will begin to see real changes in our lives, and that instead of the lame getting out of joint, we will be making straight paths for our feet so that we may be healed. We will come to Him with open hearts and open hands, asking to be filled.
And we will do this together, for two are better than one, and if one falls, his friend can help him up. You can be a silent reader or join in with the group. If you have just joined us, click on the banner about the blog and then on the door for the easy getting started directions. I suggest not using your last name but perhaps something like Sue from Boston or Mary Extrovert. I also suggest you do not check the box for replies for your e-mail folder will explode!
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
Monday: Identifying a Heart Idol
The first thing to do is to identify a common temptation for you, a “besetting sin,” a behavior from which you would like to be set free. Ask the Lord to show you what grieves Him. — and then let this sit for a day and see if this is where you want to concentrate, at least as we begin our journey. It might help you to see the following videos. One is from our own Rebecca, and many of you have seen it before. But if not, it’s a very clear illustration of not just stopping a bad behavior, but allowing God to replace that void. Some common needs we endeavor to meet independently of God are comfort/security, affirmation/approval and control/power. See if you can identify the needs Rebecca and Rachael were endeavoring to meet independently of God, and then, how they let God meet them.
2. What need was Rebecca endeavoring to meet and how did she both repent and run toward God?
3. What need was Rachael trying to meet and how did she both repent and run toward God?
(Rachael’s firstborn son Jared is fighting brain cancer — would love a prayer for them!)
Tuesday: A True Fast
Though the practice of Lent is not commanded in Scripture, fasting is. Fasting is designed to make us hungry for God — in the video above, Rachael fasted from social media, Rebecca fasted from pie — but both didn’t just fast, they turned to the living God instead. You may want to replace complaining with praise, or sowing discord with seeking peace or an hour of nightly television with an hour of reading. The practice of Lent can turn into formalism, ritual without the heart. Isaiah makes it clear this is not a true fast. What we want to begin tomorrow is to fast from our heart idol, but then seek the Lord, truly, to meet our needs and replace that heart idol with Himself, and in so doing, cause us to bear the fruit of true righteousness. You may choose to replace your idol with a good habit, but you must also come to the Lord — do this study with your sisters. I will be giving free sermons, beginning next week, so another idea is to spend time listening carefully to those. Seek God in this. He knows your needs better than you do.
4. Read Isaiah 58:1-5
A. What is the contradiction in the lives of the Israelites according to verse 2-3?
B. How is it possible to spend time in church, in the Word — and yet “seek our own pleasure,” oppressing others, enslaving ourselves, and grieving God?
5. What insight does James 1:22-25 give into how to overcome the error of impotent Bible study?
Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day: A PERFECT MATCH!
The practice of putting ashes on the forehead, often done in liturgical churches, can be meaningful or empty. It is meant to remind us of our frailty, for we are dust, and to dust we will return. If this is your practice, allow it to penetrate your heart through the day, reminding yourself of your frailty and need for God’s strength.
When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day, it almost seems like they are fighting. But Scotty Smith suggests anticipating our wedding instead of our funeral. We associate pain with the removal of heart idols, but what we are endeavoring instead to gain is intimacy with God. When you fall in love with your one true love, you give up others that could hurt your relationship. In the same way, we want not just to turn from our heart idols, but to run into the arms of God.
We are getting ready for our great wedding day. How we long to please Him, to be presented as a “pure virgin,” to be beautiful. We want to feel more of His presence, His peace, His joy.If you didn’t see this video, which I posted for the first time last week, please watch — it is from a woman behind bars who despite all the deprivation has real joy because she is, indeed, anticipating her wedding day.
Prepare your heart with this prayer from Scotty Smith:
And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” Mark 2:19-20
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. 3:17-19
Lord Jesus, it’s Ash Wednesday—the beginning of the season of Lent. For the next forty days we have the privilege of surveying your cross, lamenting our sin, and resting in your righteousness. For your glory and our growth, we ask you to inundate us with fresh grace in the coming weeks. Convince us again that we are much more beloved than broken.
Indeed, we don’t want an ordinary Lenten season, Jesus. Melt us in your mercies and overwhelm us with your love. Astonish us with your kindness, for your kindness leads us to repentance. It’s all about you, Lord Jesus. It is all about what you’ve done for us, not what we promise to do for you. It’s not about beating ourselves up, it’s about lifting you up.
That’s why we begin Lent today anticipating our wedding, not our funeral; for you are the perfect Bridegroom who died to make us your cherished bride. The work has been done, the dowry has been paid in full, and the wedding dress of your righteousness is ours. The invitations have been sent out and the date has been set. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Over these next forty days give us an insatiable hunger for yourself, Lord. Reveal new dimensions of your love, and intensify our longing for the Day of consummate joy—the wedding feast of the Lamb.
In light of that banquet, we choose to deny ourselves (fast) certain pleasures for this brief season; but we’re not looking to get one thing from you, Jesus—just more of you. Fill our hearts with your beauty and bounty. So very Amen we pray, in your holy and loving name.
6. Have you identified a common besetting sin or temptation? If you are willing to share, do, so we can pray for one another. Have you identified what need you are trying to meet independently of God?
7. How do you plan to replace the bad habit with a good — and how do you plan to fill yourself with God?
8. Read Isaiah 58:6-7. What illustration does God give of the fruit that can come from truly depending on Him?
9. Read Isaiah 58:8 and find the promise for those who endeavor to turn from their sin and walk in the light?
10. What fruit might come from your life this Lent is you can replace your bad habit with a habit that is pleasing to the Lord?
Thursday: Not More Love from God, but More Intimacy with God
God does not love us more when we obey or less when we disobey, but disobedience does quench His Spirit. I love how our Rebecca put it: Intimacy with God is like a stream, and I hate it when the rocks get in the way.
11. Read Isaiah 58:9-12 and find the promises of open communication and intimacy with God.
12. Compare this to 1 John 3:18-22. What parallels do you see with Isaiah 58:9-12?
13. If you have had a measure of victory over a heart idol in your life, share how it has impacted your life and intimacy with God.
14. Read Isaiah 58:13-14 and explain how we are to look at the Sabbath, especially noting the repeated commands.
It would be so easy to get legalistic about this, for the default mode of the human heart is works righteousness. J. Alec Motyer, who is considered the surpreme expert on Isaiah, writes: The Sabbath was not a fast but a feast day. The Lord is more interested in enjoyment through obedience than in self-imposed deprivations. …The Sabbath is not intended to be a burden but a day of exquisite delight.
15. We have only just begun, but have you experienced any measure of “delight” yet at turning from your idol and turning to the Lord?
Friday: Not Perfection but Progress
16. One of my favorite posts on Lent is this from Ann Voskamp. Read it and comment:
17. Reflect on your week. Share any progress or take-away.
We’ve only just begun — next week we will begin with Isaiah 1 to get an overview and hear a wonderful sermon. May you continually depend on the Lord for your strength, and not allow the devil a foothold. Look ahead to the joy of real growth and the sweet fruit it brings.