It’s over; it’s time. I’m officially calling it.
This Lenten experiment is dead.
It was a slow death, but the process began almost instantly. If you were here roughly 6 weeks ago, you know that I gave up coffee entirely and made three commitments to put in its place: read through the Bible in 40 days, spend time in reflection and prayer each day using one-word prompts, and (of course) write down those reflections here to share with you.
The writing burned brightly, but briefly: I made it through Day 1 successfully…and then the wheels fell off. I missed writing on Day 2, so I dutifully combined Day 2 and 3 together to recover some semblance of discipline and routine. I wouldn’t be back again until I wrote these words you are reading now.
Reading and reflecting were real fighters; I stayed on track with those for almost 2 weeks. Ventured all the way through Ruth and into the first part of Samuel in my reading, and made time to sit and meditate on the daily Word with my daily word. But in the end, these too were swallowed up in the routine of daily life.
The coffee-fast was the last to go. In a fun bit of irony, the very thing I said I didn’t want Lent to be all about was what survived nearly to the end. When I realized this (and got done having a good laugh at my own expense), I mercifully pulled the plug on it as well. RIP 40 Days in the Land of No Coffee.
I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I know it wasn’t this. I like to see myself as someone who loves Jesus and has a fair amount of will power. This was going to be fun! I was really going to commit and do something this year that was transformational! It was time to level-up spiritually, and I was just the guy to make it happen! Let’s GOOOOOO!
Yeah…not so much.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my approach to this whole thing was (at its root) all about me proving something to God, or maybe to the rest of the world: my worthiness, my devotion, my faith. Or possibly, by demonstrating my own faithfulness, I could win some kind of special favor with God. Maybe all of the above. But whatever it was, it was all about me. It began and ended with me, and I had found myself to be woefully more lacking than I had anticipated.
In my zeal to do something different this year in preparation for Easter, I made the classic mistake of putting the focus on what I can do for God instead of what God has already done for me. What I had set out to avoid became the snare that tripped me up. Along with the Apostle Paul, I (re)discovered “this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” (Romans 7:21, NLT)
As so often happens, just as I was feeling pretty miserable and wretched…God hit me with a much-needed boomtown. I thought to myself, “I have absolutely nothing to bring to the table here.”
And a still, small Voice whispered to my soul, “You’re right. That’s the point. And I love you anyway.”
Anytime I hear that Voice, my mind begins to flood with Scripture that hammers home whatever point God wants to make. I thought of Psalm 51, written by David in the aftermath of an affair with and subsequent humbling by a trusted friend, where he writes of God: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (51:16-17)
Here David was, at his worst, and yet not rejected by God. Here I was, feeling worthless (albeit on a much smaller scale!), and yet not condemned. Both of us had been met in our woeful state with loving mercy rather than cold judgment.
It is a wonderful, powerful, paradoxical truth that when we feel least acceptable to God is when we are most welcomed by God. The humility that comes with the empty brokenness we feel at our lowest is what brings God the nearest.
This truth is claimed by the wisdom of Proverbs: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34) That same wisdom shows up again in James, who quotes it in order to exhort his audience to “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” (James 4:8)
This truth was declared by Jesus in his story of a pristine religious teacher and a despised tax collector who went before God in the Temple. The teacher extolled his own virtues and service to God, while the tax collector merely hung his head and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus says that the humbled ‘sinner’ and not the arrogant Pharisee went home right with God. (Luke 18:9-14)
God’s attitude towards us is always one of loving embrace, regardless of what we think we are bringing with us; we only need to turn to God to see it.
This truth was illustrated by Jesus again in a story about a wasteful son, whose father ran to welcome him back even while “he was still a long way off.” (Luke 15:20) And it was put on full display when Jesus cried out to God from the cross to forgive the very people who tortured and killed him in their ignorance (Luke 23:34).
This is the real power of Easter: that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is evident in Jesus.
Not our own brokenness, or ignorance, or arrogance.
Not our wealth, or poverty, or pre-occupation with either.
Nothing in our own lives, or in all creation will tear us away from that love.
This is what transforms us: not our own efforts or holiness or determination, but a humbling, jaw-dropping, pretense-shattering confrontation with the unimaginable love of the King of Kings. Not even death can stop the perfect love that God has for you. For me. For us. Whether we are ready to receive it or not, it just is.
“We are not ready. And still He comes.
“This is our God. While we were yet sinners—while we were enemies of God who would rather nail him to a Roman cross than be forced to change—Christ died for us—once for all—the innocent for the guilty. The one who knew no sin became sin for our sake. When we were not ready—when we are still not ready now—Jesus comes.
“Please hear the Gospel: No one is ready. No one was ready then and no one is ready now. And still Jesus comes. The truth is, you are a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you are more loved than you ever dared hope. This the good news. ‘While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.’
“Holy Week is here. And Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, his gaze fixed on Golgotha. Whatever the state of our heart, whatever the faithfulness of our Lent, he is coming to save us. This is the good news. This is the mercy of God. This is the gift of God. You have nothing left to do but believe it. Trust it. You aren’t ready; but Jesus is coming. Amen.”
Come, Lord Jesus.