A Lenten Invitation: Open to Hear God’s Heart for the Least of These
Lent wasn’t something I knew as a child. But Easter was. And Easter has been a sacred, community experience from as early as I can remember. Looking back, I see my journey with Easter celebrations has been solidly anchored in lessons of serving, justice, and God’s healing of those knocked down by life. In the raw, connected community of faith where I grew up, we openly expressed our shared need for Jesus and we clung to the resurrection story, his hope for the least of these, for us.
It’s not surprising that by the time I discovered the history and practice of Lent many years later, I found that it, too, is rooted in our Father’s heart for the least of, for those desperate for an ear, an outstretched hand, and the touch of a Savior.
Let me take you back to my childhood at Christian Encounter Ministries (CEM), the context of these Easter celebrations, and to the wonder that began to grow for me over each passing Easter weekend.
A special part of the 88-acre CEM property is called Angels Meadow. Each Easter while I was growing up, the students, interns, and staff families at the ministry would rise before the spring sun and bundle in our warmest coats, scarves, and blankets to head up to the meadow. It was our Easter sunrise service. As we’d sing classic Easter songs and hymns like “The Easter Song” and “Were you there?” there was something even more celebratory and sacred to these mornings than even Christmas held for me.
That’s why, when I encountered the historic practice of Lent in a Spiritual Formation class my senior year of college, it clicked for me. Yes! What a beautiful, well-trodden path I can follow to enter into the story and transformation of Easter.
As Advent prepares us for Christmas, so Lent prepares us for Easter. The birth of Christ was God’s chosen beginning to become our Immanuel, but Easter is the time when every longing for a Savior for mankind was met and continues to be satisfied in our shared human story.
I love the anticipation and liberation of Easter. The grave could not hold him down. He is risen!
How can we celebrate and prepare our hearts to receive more deeply the significance of Easter throughout the 40 days of Lent?
With Lent’s approaching, set to begin this year on Wednesday, March 1, I couldn’t help but think about you, our Voice of Courage community. As I asked the Lord what he thinks about Lent and spiritual practices that create space in our lives to honor his death and resurrection, this verse swiftly came to mind:
“Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:5-7 NASB).
What is God’s purpose for fasting and spiritual disciplines in our lives? What is his invitation for you as Lent and Easter approach?
As I’m thinking about what Christ’s invitation looks like for me this Lent season, I’m reminded of the cries of the oppressed, the weeping of those who are unheard or under-represented in our world and nation.
It’s undeniable. Lent, as Easter, is not primarily about individual improvement but about God’s plan to establish peace and wholeness—shalom—among all people and between God and his people.
Whose cries do you hear? How can we make space to respond to, listen to, and support the concerns of people in our world who need justice?
Deeper still, how does partnership with God’s heart for the least of these during Lent bring new depth to your celebration of and reliance on Christ’s death and resurrection? How will your life contribute to shalom on earth?
Likely, we don’t yet fully know what the answer to that second question because we haven’t yet walked through the lessons and intimacy he wants for us during the upcoming 40 days.
Will you enter that learning space with him?
Here are some simple ideas to get you started with planning Lent with Jesus:
Pray. What does Jesus want to show your heart? What new part of your heart can you open for his invitations to make their home?
Pay attention. What has already made an imprint on your heart? What justice concerns shake you so deeply you know you must do something, even something small, to respond? Could this concern have something to do with God’s heart for your Lenten commitments?
Plan. When, where, and how will you practice your spiritual discipline for Lent? Will you need to reduce something that currently fills that space in your life to make room for your greater focus on Christ’s invitation?
Partner. Who will walk alongside you in this journey? Do you have a close friend who can press into your spiritual walk with good listening, questions, and supportive prayer? Do you lead or influence others in your life who may also be open to exploring Lent in a new way this year?
I still remember the conversations I enjoyed with a friend as we processed our Lent discoveries nine years ago, the year I first practiced Lent. God used this woman to take me deeper into his heart and invitations for me throughout Lent.
Plug in. Have you ever attended an Ash Wednesday service (on that first day of Lent, this year on Wednesday March 1st) at a local liturgical church, followed an online Lent study, or read a Lent devotional book? It’s beautiful to learn from the historic ways the Christian church has observed Lent and to partner with others who may practice faith traditions we haven’t engaged before.
Posture. In all things, I invite you to stay open to where Christ may be inviting you to experience his presence and his journey to the cross.
I pray as you take your next step forward and prepare for the beginning of Lent that you will hear his heartbeat for the world and your life. May you then have great compassion and wisdom to act on what he speaks to bring justice, beauty, and healing to the world around you. Whether we have been following Jesus for years or are just starting out, there is something new for us as we seek him in each season.