I need (as in, require in order to function) coffee.
I love chocolate.
I enjoy wine.
I’m a bit of a foodie.
Realization: Lent approaches. (Ash Wednesday is next week)
So what to “give up for Lent”? I can tell you right now, it’s not going to be the coffee.
The 40 days of Lent is traditionally a time set aside to remember Christ’s 40-day wilderness temptation. But we sometimes turn it into a chance to re-up our New Year’s resolutions, which we’ve broken by the time Lent hits in mid-February.
Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with some unusual requests, but they get at the heart of what is common to us all. And here’s the thing: the fasting came before the temptations, as a means to strengthen himself spiritually. Jesus wasn’t tempted by food the way we’re tempted by chocolate as soon as we say we’re not going to eat it. Jesus’ giving up of food was not the temptation, it was the spiritual preparation for the temptation.
Jesus fasted from food for 40 days. After that, perhaps logically, Satan tempts him to give in to physical appetites, and turn stones to bread. The underlying accusation: does God really care for you, Jesus? Are you deeply loved?
Not going there, Jesus says. He counters with Scripture (this starts a pattern), reminding Lucifer that we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that God gives. God is not stingy, but generous. And again, fasting made him hungry, and perhaps weaker physically, but stronger spiritually.
Apparently learning from his mistake, the tempter quotes Scripture himself, and suggests that Jesus throw himself off the highest pinnacle of the temple, so that the angels can save him.
Jesus refuses to test God. He trusts without engaging in foolish tests. And again, replies with Scripture—he lives on every word that proceeds from God. And Jesus affirms—I don’t have to put God to foolish tests in order to know that I am loved, protected and safe.
Finally, Satan offers Jesus power over all the earth, all the kingdoms and their splendor—if Jesus will worship him. He offers wealth and power. Jesus dismisses him. He knows the end of the story, when every knee will bow…
I’m guessing that you and I probably won’t ever have a conversation with Satan in which he tempts us to turn stones to bread, throw ourselves from a high building, or offer us the “king of the world” job if we are willing to worship him. So how can we, during this Lenten season, identify with the suffering and temptation of Christ?
Like him, we are tempted by our appetites. We’re tempted to live recklessly and test God. We’re tempted to worship wealth and power and chase those things instead of God. We want to be kings or queens of our own little worlds. But what current runs beneath those temptations, both ours and Christ’s?
Hold that thought.
“Do not worry.” This is one of the most profound statements in one of Jesus’ most significant sermons.
This was one of his favorite themes. Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Fear not. Do not worry about your life. It’s the command he most often repeated. He devoted a healthy chunk of the Sermon on the Mount to unpacking the statement, “Do not worry about your life.”
Wasn’t Satan, in those wilderness conversations, tempting Jesus to worry? Worry that he might starve? Worry that God would not protect and keep him? Worry that his plan of working with some scrappy, untrained fishermen and a handful of women might not be the best way to usher in the kingdom of God?
Jesus was having none of it. He practiced the things he called us to—a life free from fear and worry. No matter what Satan said, Jesus refused to worry. He was not afraid, because he knew he was loved.
I enjoy coffee, wine and chocolate. But my thing I really can’t go a day without is worry. It feels so responsible, for one thing. An expression of my concern.
I know I should not worry—I just showed you all those verses. But worry sneaks in, all stealth, disguised as responsibility or even prudence.
Jesus said we should give up worry, not just at Lent, but daily. That we should bring our burdens to him so that he can take them, and we can rest. Because we are tempted to think that we’re anything but loved, that the world is dangerous and unsafe and we have no one to protect us.
So, what if we gave up worry for Lent? Sort of as a practice for how we might be able to live all the time? What if, for 40 days, we refused to be afraid?
Saying, “do not worry” will often make us worry more. We’re funny that way. Anytime you tell someone “don’t do __________” that of course spurs thoughts about the very thing we’re told not to do, or think about.
We need something to do instead. We need a positive command, rather than a negative one.
For Jesus, that thing to do instead was trust. Jesus knew that he was loved, that he had all he needed, that everything was all right.
When we know that we are deeply loved, that God has our back, worry becomes much less tempting. Perfect love casts out fear. It’s easy to say “Trust God,” but we’re able to do so only when we are convinced that we’re loved, that God is indeed trustworthy.
So when we fill our mind and heart with the truth that we are loved, just as we are, with no strings attached, there is no room left for worry. All that space within us, all that emptiness, is filled with love, leaving no corners in which worry can hide. What if Lent was 40 chances to experience the love of Jesus, new every morning?
A great way to strengthen our trust in God is to engage in spiritual practices that help us experience his love. Not just think about it intellectually, but to experience it in our hearts.
So if you’d like to join me in giving up worry for Lent, I’d like to invite you to read through my 40-day devotional, Deeply Loved. Each day, you’ll read and be reminded of how much Jesus loves you, and you’ll be invited to engage in a practice that allows you to experience that love in a simple but profound way. It’s a devotional that serves as an antidote for worry.
We’ll be posting excerpts from the book here throughout Lent, starting Wednesday, Feb. 18. If you’d like to post a review of the book on your own blog or Facebook page, please do, and tell us about it. Use the hashtag #DeeplyLoved