Lent: More Than Giving Up
Some habits are good. Some habits are a prison. We live in a culture that is more addicted than any generation before us. The more we have, the more opportunity we have to be addicted. So often it isn't until we are stripped of something we have become so dependent on that we understand what it means to be dependent on Christ.
My three daughters are obsessed with American Girl dolls. They love the dolls, the books, the stories, and all the accessories. And they have certainly learned how to butter up to daddy to get the latest and greatest. To make matters worse, we currently live in Chicago and used to live in LA, home of two of the largest American Girl stores. Not just shopping, but an entire experience. But believe me, I am all for it. I love watching them learn history, geography, and letting their imaginations run wild. For the most part, it is a healthy love. But like every kid, the obsession can get you into trouble. And you guessed it. We had to take them away. And you guess it again; it was nearly the end of the world.
Although it broke my heart to have to do it, I needed my kids to see something greater. I needed them to lose something to gain something. What might seem confusing, frustrating, even unfair at times, may be the very thing we need the most. I wanted my kids to experience something far more important.
Track with me for a minute and let me explain. Consider Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. The Apostle Paul's encounter with Jesus was no doubt miraculous and life changing (Acts 9:1-31). But have you ever wondered why Paul lost his vision? Initially, we can rightfully assume that Paul's blindness is a result of having experienced the glory of God. Much like Zechariah losing his ability to speak after hearing the voice of God in the Temple (Luke 1:22). There is little doubt that Paul would have been reduced to powerlessness from such an encounter. But there is something more than just the aftershocks of a Jesus encounter. It is the loss of something to gain something.
“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Acts 9:8-9
Paul lost his vision, even if only temporarily, to gain something greater. He was gaining a new worldview, a new vision, a new vocation, and mission. In fact, he was gaining Jesus himself. First he needed to be knocked of his high horse—he needed to be humbled. God needed his attention. Consequently, Paul 's blindness afforded him the time to think, pray, and reflect. He was given a chance to reflect on what had happened and be open to what might happen next. Paul even takes this a step further by fasting for three days. Paul depended on sight. When that was removed and in dire need, he was given a gift. The gift to be wholly dependent on Christ.
This Season of Lent
Now I know that my removal of much-loved dolls from my daughters pails in comparison to Paul. Nor do I assume that such an act on my part will somehow create a revelatory experience of Jesus in my daughters. Although that would be cool. It does, however, do two things, which I think are crucial. The same this found in Paul’s situation. First, it removes. It removes something that is potentially sinful. American Girl dolls are not sinful in and of themselves. But the dolls may create sinful behaviors. We are called to resist the devil and flee from evil (James 4:7); we are called to put off what once was and live as children of light (Ephesians 4:17-32); and we are called to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). My girls needed something potentially dangerous removed—just for a time. They needed to experience humility to make some space to experience more of Jesus.
Second, it isn’t just removing something, which can just produce resentment. Think about what it might have been like for Paul to have gone blind, after three days get it back, and then….nothing. Or worse, just be blind for the rest of his life. Instead, Paul was God’s chosen instrument to the Gentiles (Acts 9:16-16). Paul was a new creation in Christ, endowed with a new mission, a new vocation, and a new life. I have to believe that if Jesus had not removed his sight for a time, Paul would not have been open to God’s plan and purpose for him. In a similar fashion, removing something from the kids or giving up something is only a part of the equation. While my girls wait for their beloved dolls, they are practicing what it means to be grateful. Some of their time playing is now spent drawing near to Christ.
The season of Lent is upon us. So many churches celebrate Lent in different ways, but there is one common thread—the removal of something. Ideally, it is the removal of something causing us to stumble in our walk with Christ. These next 40 days are about cleansing ourselves of the things that turn our hearts from Jesus. But more than that it is about drawing near. It is about doing those things that provide a reconnecting. It might be as complicated and significant as Paul, and you are seeking a new mission for the kingdom. But it might be something as simple as finding a new found gratitude for what Christ has done for us. Either way, take this season of Lent to break free from the prison of those habits that ensnare us into sin and distance ourselves from Christ; and put your dependence in the only one who can provide all that we need.
As a youth leader, don't let this season of Lent pass by without teaching and engaging your students in the opportunity to draw near to God in a way that changes their lives forever. Help them discover that even when the Spirit of God seems so far away, setting our hearts and minds on Him will reveal that He has been next to you the whole time. Teach your students to go without, so that they can experience an overflowing of Christ.
Executive Director of AwanaYMSteve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve speaks and writes on youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak
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