With the unexpected sunshine at the tail end of February, we could almost be kidded into thinking spring was on its way. A flurry of snowflakes this morning has brought us soundly back to earth, but if we look back to ancient Roman times, March was the month in which the Romans felt spring had sprung and therefore took the opportunity to recommence war. Winter had put a stop to their military endeavours, but the onset of March saw them gearing up to do battle again.
Usually when we think of Lent, we think of ‘giving something up’ as a link to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting. Giving something up seems more of a sacrifice than an act of war, but actually, battling cravings for something you’re denying yourself, or forcing yourself out of bed to exercise in the mornings when it’s the last thing you want to do, can be likened to doing battle with your own desires.
We are also 5 days into Lent, and for many of us (religious or not) we are using this as an opportunity to do battle with something in our own lives. Changing our body or health tends to be a common one, with many giving up sweet treats or junk food for the specified 40 days.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus, said,
‘I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’ 1 Corinthians 9:27
He was a dedicated Christian who knew the effort and self-discipline it took to follow Jesus. Those of us who take on ambitious challenges for Lent know that anything worth doing involves a lot of effort…and Paul was very much of the same mindset. He describes this effort as like beating his body. This isn’t a comfortable idea for many of us, and yet in reality that’s exactly what we do at a gym, or when we’re forcing down food that’s good or us and denying ourselves the less healthy options we really want. Many of us spend long hours working to be able to achieve a higher position or excel in our field, sometimes depriving ourselves of sleep or rest in our efforts. We’re disciplining ourselves to be a slave to what we want to achieve in our lives.
And who’s to say that’s a problem? It can lead to us gaining a fulfilling career, a healthier body, more confidence and self-esteem. Those are often the targets people have in mind when setting themselves a challenge for Lent. Whilst these are good for this life, Paul had his view on a longer-lasting reward. He talks of a prize, and what he means is the prize of eternal life in a kingdom with God and Jesus. He knew that being a Christian wasn’t easy. He knew it meant sacrifice, hard work and perseverance…all the things required to successfully complete a challenge for Lent…only he wasn’t only sticking to this for just 40 days.
Devoting your life to Jesus isn’t an easy option, but unlike Lent, if you get things wrong, it isn’t all over and you don’t just give up. You pray, ask for forgiveness and try again. Jesus’ life was hard, and he knows we can often mess up and gets things wrong, but he understands that. He wants us to make the commitment through baptism to follow him, and to try hard like Paul did. Jesus knows we can’t ever do enough to earn this great reward, but he wants us to keep our eyes on the prize when the going gets tough, because that prize is far greater than any benefits we can get now from changing our physical body, and God is willing to give us that prize because of our association with Jesus.
So if you’re partaking in a Lent challenge this year, I hope you get what you want out of it. Maybe you could even start now with the challenge to read a little bit of the Bible every day. It doesn’t matter that we are 5 days into Lent now, because if you really want to get to know God and Jesus, then reading the Bible will become a part of your life that lasts beyond the end of this Lent period.
Finally, just know that in the eternal kingdom, weight and shape and looks won’t matter. We will be purely happy and however hard and long the battle, the effort we put in now will be worth it.
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