Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 10, 2014

Lent Is Messing With Me

The message of Lent has been messing with me this year. For some reason the convicting call to repentance that is emphasized during this season of the year is leaving me more unsettled than usual. It seems to be confronting me around every turn.

I was unsettled when I opened Time magazine and saw a picture of an infant being carried out of the rubble after an air strike in Damascus. I was uncomfortable when the Ugandan orphans we are hosting at our home this week were surprised by the size of our house. I was challenged when the podcast I listened to yesterday lead me through a reflective reading of Isaiah 58. Here the prophet writes:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
– Isaiah 58:6-7

For some reason I can’t seem to get through this season by simply giving up Pepsi for 40 days. As Isaiah 58 explains, God is looking for more than token gestures. The text makes it clear that God calls us to get our hands dirty as we work for justice in a broken world.

The call to respond actively to the pain of our world can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. This convicting message brings a flood of questions. Where do I start? How can I make a difference? Why am I not doing as much for the poor as the CEO of World Vision? Should I sell my house and give everything away? Should I move to a more impoverished country? Should I try and hone my administrative leadership skills and start a non-profit? Am I doing enough as a pastor to mobilize our people for mission? These are the kinds of questions that have literally kept me up at night this week.

In the midst of these experiences and questions it is important for us to be discerning. I thought I’d share a few thoughts that have been helping me navigate this journey of repentance.

1. Don’t drown in the big picture; rather, focus on the small things that are right before you.

John’s sermon yesterday was very helpful for me. He reflected on Jesus’ last words to John and Mary as he hung on the cross. In the midst of all the darkness they were surrounded with, Jesus simply said to John, “here is your mother,” and to Mary, “here is your son.” There is a surprising simplicity in Jesus’ words. In the midst of this cosmic battle between good and evil Jesus reminds his disciples to simply take care of each other. Jesus brings them back to the basics.

There is a time and place for big projects; however, we ought not to let the big problems of our world paralyze us. The world is often transformed through mustard seed acts of care and compassion for those around us. As Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

2. Know who you are.

Paul’s image of the body of Christ is instructive. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. We have different gifts, different roles, and different callings. Coveting the gifts of others does not help anybody. We can’t all be CEO’s of large non-profit organizations. Non-profits that serve the poor require business people to fund projects, volunteers to carry out day to day operations on the ground, laborers to build infrastructure, pastors that help disciples grow in their faith and find a place to serve, and on it goes. Part of the discernment process requires us to know how God has shaped us to serve.

3. Know who you are not (Specifically “The Messiah”)

Oscar Romero. He writes:

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

I love the line that says we are “ministers, not messiahs.” There is, indeed, something very liberating about knowing that we are just one piece of a large puzzle.

4. Distinguish between true and false guilt.

It is important for us to recognize that not all guilt is from God. While the conviction of the Holy Spirit can be uncomfortable, it is not oppressive. One of the names of the evil one in scripture is literally “the accuser.” One of Satan’s greatest tricks is to clothe himself in false spirituality. The very one that tempts us to sin is the first person to point a finger at us when we fall.

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul suggests that there is a difference between true and false sorrow for our sinfulness. He writes:

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

The conviction that is from God does not leave us full of regret; rather, it inspires and motivates us to grow in character and do what is right. The conviction that is worldly, however, is not life giving at all – it actually defeats us and leads to our death. As we seek to discern God’s conviction it is important for us to be sensitive to these different dynamics. If the conviction we feel is oppressive, hopeless, and paralyzing then I suspect that it is not the Holy Spirit speaking.

That being said, one of the roles of the Spirit is to convict us. And this can be unsettling and disorienting. We ought not to dismiss the holy discomfort we feel too quickly, or theologize our way out of it.

Lent is messing with me this year. Yet, if the Spirit is behind this, then there is much to be hopeful for. We ought not to fear times of conviction, for God is seeking our best. He is leading us to freedom and hope. Isaiah 58 ends with these hopeful words:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for this Phil! This is a very encouraging and hopeful message as
    we reflect on the deep and true meaning of Lent. Love to you Julie, & James.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and study regarding this Lenten season. It was very helpful and clarifying to me.
    God is using you to reach so many through your blog.

  3. As we approach the anniversary of Oscar Romero’s martyrdom, we thought you might enjoy our music video honoring the Archbishop. Go to http://youtu.be/21CN815v2G0. Feel free to review, post or embed the video. More information may be found at TheMartyrsProject.com.


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