Welcome back to the final podcast of the 40-day Lent Journey. This is Gina. You may be wondering what is left to say, since we concluded our journey on Palm Sunday, the 40th day.
Sandra and I just wanted to take a few minutes to thank everyone who participated in our Lent journey. Some of you began and stayed with us from the very first day. Some people joined the last week of the journey. To everyone, at whatever point and in whatever way you joined, we want to say thank you. It has been an enriching, encouraging, comforting, and challenging journey with God over the past 40 days. Thank you to everyone who sent us comments and emails. That was really encouraging to us along the way.
We had 1,200 unique listeners and readers from 59 countries. We have seen regular listeners and readers from Barbados to Bangladesh. From the United States, South Africa, Portugal, Israel, Pakistan, Finland, New Zealand and Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Qatar, Monaco, Madagascar, Jamaica, and South Korea, just to name some.
As the coronavirus began to spread across the globe in the middle of our journey and over the past weeks, many of us were required to stop gathering for prayer and worship with our local congregations in order to protect the most vulnerable. But we were already gathering daily across the miles and time zones as one Body of Christ to pray and listen to God, and to intercede for the nations, peoples, and the Church across the Eurasia Region. We cannot thank you enough for journeying with us.
We may feel alone and isolated in these unprecedented times, but the truth is we are one in Jesus. Even if we have never met in this life, someday we will all meet in the holy presence of God after this earthly life has ended. I look forward to meeting each one of you then, or being reunited with those of you I know.
This Monday, we enter Holy Week. We make unusual plans under global pandemic and localized quarantine to mark the torment of Jesus on Maundy Thursday; His death by crucifixion on Good Friday; a day of mourning and lament on Holy Saturday, the day that Jesus’ lifeless body languished in the tomb. And then, billions of Christians around the globe will awaken on Easter Sunday to joyfully celebrate the dazzling and shocking resurrection of Jesus, as He conquered death itself on this day in human history, 2000 years ago.
We may observe Easter differently this year, but it will not change the meaning of it, or what Christ has done for us!
So, let us all spend this week reflecting on and exploring further the lessons, the revelations, and the calls to obedience from the voice of God, whom we heard during the past 40 days.
I myself learned about Lent in a new way this year.
This is the first year that I can ever remember actually observing the Lenten season. As an American evangelical, the practice of Lent is not something I even heard about growing up in the church. In the past 10 years or so, our social circle took us among Christians and Nazarenes for whom Lent is an annual observance. However, I just didn’t really understand what it was all about. Based on short conversations with friends, and social media posts, I had come away thinking that Lent was basically about giving up something for 40 days that you really shouldn’t be doing in excess anyway. Like, eating too much chocolate, drinking too much caffeine, watching too much television, or spending too much time social media. I guess I had the impression it was like a self-help reset; it felt like a Christian version of a New Year’s resolution, and I had trouble connecting it with the lead-up to Easter.
I don’t mean to belittle these practices, which I know have been very meaningful for many believers. I am just saying that I didn’t understand what it was all about.
This year, as Sandra and I brainstormed a way that we could bring Nazarenes from the Eurasia Region together for a concentrated time in this new year of studying the Word, listening to God and praying, for ourselves and for our region, we wanted to invite our global church family to join as well. And as we began producing the devotionals and podcasts, I had to wrestle every day, in a deeper way than I usually do, with the scripture.
Some days it was easy. I could skim through the various scripture selections, and before I was even finished, the theme and message had leaped at me off the page.
Other days, it was a long struggle. I would read and re-read each scripture. Sometimes I didn’t understand any of them. Or they seemed to repeat themes from previous days. “What is the point of this story or this passage?” I would wonder. I would have to go upstairs to my father’s office and borrow some of his Bible commentaries to find out what theologians had discovered in these passages. Eventually, after much listening and study, that a-ha moment would come. I could see what it seemed like God might want to say to us that day.
By spending every day in the production of the Lent podcast and website, I had no choice but to wrestle deeply with the scriptures and with God. And I think I have discovered what Lent has come to mean to me: a sort of spiritual reset where I spend more extended focus and time on God than I usually do.
While I had not intended to give up anything for Lent this year, what happened was that I gave up sleep. I gave up time off from work. I gave up basically all my recreational activities, television shows, hobbies, and time connecting with friends. At the end of this Lent journey, I am physically and mentally exhausted. But, I am spiritually refreshed.
So, I am not a long-time observer of Lent, but I think doing this together with all of you has helped me discover what Lent is going to mean to me going forward: It’s a time where I give God an extra measure of my focus and my attention, and I really invest in my relationship for a concentrated period of time. I know that I’m already thinking about how I can retain some of the disciplines I’ve developed in these 40 days in the rest of the year.
The themes over the past 40 days that jumped out at me repeatedly from the scriptures passages were these:
- God wants a vibrant, growing, and loving relationship with us far more than He wants the things we do for Him. He wants us before He wants our sacrifices or our efforts. The things we do for God in ministry or in any other way should flow out of a relationship with our God, not replace it.
- To be in a relationship with God, to say that we follow Jesus, requires our radical and total obedience. Obedience is how we demonstrate our love for, and trust in, God.
- God loves us unconditionally. He loves us with all His being, even when we feel sad, depressed, anxious, suspicious of Him, hostile to Him, disappointed in Him; bitter, resentful, unforgiving, trapped, stuck, unable to change, self-loathing, ashamed, and guilty. He is with us in our suffering, and He suffers with us. He can also handle our complaints and our accusations. He only asks that instead of us abandoning the relationship, that we bring to Him our complaints about Him; that we trust Him with our accusations of how poorly or confusingly we think He is treating us. As long as we go to Him with the problems we are having with Him, He will work it out with us, and our relationship will only grow stronger.
- Following God is hard. It involves risk, and there is no guarantee we will have lives free of pain, that we will avoid tragedy or loss or deep disappointment. We Nazarenes do not preach a prosperity gospel. Sometimes the blessings we receive from God are not material; the blessing might be that in all our suffering, God is with us, and gives us the endurance to go through the darkest experiences in life. Yet, through all these difficult times, God will never leave us. He promises to be with us through it.
- God is good. God is love. God is beautiful. God is sweet and gentle. God is hard and strong. His judgement is perfect, just, is the ultimate good news. God is good. God is love. God loves us.
Sandra and I would like to invite you to share with us your testimony of a way God has worked in your life during the past 40 days. We would love to be encouraged by your story.
You can send an anonymous message to us at www.lentjourney.org/contact. Or you can write an email to communications (@) eurasiaregion.org.
Go forth this week in the sweet and powerful love of our resurrected Jesus, who now intercedes for us from the right hand of our God of the Angel Armies. And go forth in the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter whom Jesus sent to us after He departed from us with the promise to return again.