This Lenten season has given me some time to reflect. In years past, I would sometimes give up something that I loved (that is, food) during Lent, but it was more a quasi religious self-improvement program than anything to do with the sacrifice of our Lord. Nowadays I occasionally manage to stay in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit to nudge me closer to Jesus in my everyday habits.
So this year I’m looking to ancient church traditions in my attempt to honor God and prepare myself for Easter, particularly surrounding fasting and prayer. I am finding this helps me return the focus of the season to Christ, where it should have been all along. It has been helpful to me to pray in a posture of humility and to remember my sins. Not in a spirit of hand-wringing and self-deprecation, however. As N.T. Wright said, “Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty, not because God is mean or fault-finding or finger-pointing but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store.”
Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, following the prince of the power of air, we were by nature children of wrath. Our prospects are bleak. And then in verse 4, there’s a great turn: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
This is the good news, friends. But in order to fully appreciate what we have been given in verse 4, we have to spend some time in verses 1-3. We need to understand that we are utterly depraved and lost and in desperate need of a savior. So I’d like to leave you with a prayer from my Lenten reading today. This is my prayer for all of us this season: that we would see our sin, turn to God, and receive more grace.
Bend my hands and cut them off,
for I have often struck thee with a wayward will,
when these fingers should embrace thee by faith.
I am not yet weaned from all created glory,
honour, wisdom, and esteem of others,
for I have a secret motive to eye my name in all I do.
Let me not only speak the word sin, but see
the thing itself.
Give me to view a discovered sinfulness,
to know that though my sins are crucified
they are never wholly mortified.
Hatred, malice, ill-will,
vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after
man’s approval and applause,
all are crucified, forgiven,
but they rise again in my sinful heart.
O my crucified but never wholly mortified sinfulness!
O my life-long damage and daily shame!
O my indwelling and besetting sins!
O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!
Destroy, O God, the dark guest within
whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;
the cross still stands and meets my needs
in the deepest straits of the soul.
I thank thee that my remembrance of it
is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword
which preached forth thy deliverance.
The memory of my great sins, my many
temptations, my falls,
bring afresh into my mind the remembrance
of thy great help, of they support from heaven,
of the great grace that saved such a wretch
as I am.
There is no treasure so wonderful
as that continuous experience of they grace
toward me which alone can subdue
the risings of sin within:
Give me more of it.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass