Lent ought to be a time for us to reappraise our spiritual life. What shall we do to enhance our walk and talk with Christ? Pray, of course. But how? Alone and going deep in the Spirit. Give and serve others, of course. But how? Without ostentation, without expectation of being honored or even recognized. Being primarily secret servants who work for God’s kingdom. Fasting, too, is relevant for growing strong spiritually.
“Living,” wrote the Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega, “is a constant process of deciding what we are going to do.” Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and if we haven’t already decided “what we are going to do” to make Lent a meaningful spiritual experience, now is the time to do so.
What shall we do to enhance our spiritual life? How shall we make our Christian walk and our Christian talk more uniform so that we don’t say one thing and do another? In short, how can we — to use St. Paul’s words — “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” so that the light of Christ shines through us more clearly?
What makes the most sense, of course, is to spend time with the Master. Read his words, discern the pattern of living he laid out for us. Look carefully at how Christ decided what he was to do as his life unfolded each day.
A close examination of the life of Christ will reveal that he prayed often, constantly seeking the will of the Father. He went off to lonely places to meditate and commune with the Father. He told his followers that they too should spend time alone in prayer. “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Yes! We are most likely to discover what we are to do as followers of Christ by opening up our spirits to the Spirit of God our Creator. Yes! And following the revelation that God gives us will most certainly result in the rewards of joy and fulfillment that come from doing God’s will. To truly seek the mind of God and follow God’s will to the best of our abilities is to find a treasure ― a spiritual treasure, of course, but a treasure no one can take from us here or hereafter.
To truly pray, to go deep in the Spirit, is to discover the wonderful truth a child wrote about in worship one Sunday. She was no more than 6 or 7. She sat there with her parents scribbling letters on a small sheet of paper. After the service, when nearly everyone but her family had gone, she stretched her little mouth into a big smile and handed the paper to the pastor. He received it with warm gratitude and as the family left, he read her words scribbled in big block letters scattered across the page. They were: “Our God is a pleasure. Our God is a HUGE pleasure!”
If during Lent we can only come to realize the significance of that truth, we will have reached a spiritual milestone.
Going on, our scripture reading for today reminds us that Christians are called to be secret servants. We are, of course, expected to give a reason for the Christian hope within us, to publicly acknowledge that Christ is our Lord. Yet, in many ways we are to be anonymous in our service ― secret servants.
Jesus was greatly disappointed in religious officials who made a big show of their positions and roles. Such leaders, dripping with religious symbols and ostentatious dress were too showy for him. “All hat and no cattle” a Texan might say. That is why our Lord said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” It is not our “outward show” that matters to God. It is the condition of our “inner person,” our spiritual health, that counts.
Jesus said, also, that we must not make a big production of our generosity. “Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ... that they may be praised by others. ... But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.”
Should it really matter, when we give gifts for the glory of God and God’s kingdom on earth, that our action become known far and wide? Do we need recognition for every gift we give or every good deed we do? God knows the condition of our hearts. God knows whether we are doing our best in our giving and serving. That really is all that matters.
Lent, however, is a good time for us to check up on ourselves. What are we really doing to express our stewardship and service to God?
A certain gentleman was to arrive by train at a station in England. The one expecting him could not make it to the station to meet him so he asked another man to do it. “How will I know him when he arrives?” asked the man. The host-to-be answered, “Just look for a tall man who will be doing something for someone else.” The arriving visitor must have been a secret servant, don’t you think? So should we be secret servants of the Lord.
During Lent, we may learn of some people who have decided to fast. Is fasting relevant? Is it necessary? Yes, I know. This sounds like the “preacher’s done gone to meddling” as a woman whispered to her companion when the preacher started condemning gossip.
Still, fasting is an ancient practice that can help increase our spiritual health as well as our physical health. “I humbled my soul with fasting,” the writer of the 35th psalm wrote. Fasting can do that, you know. When we have not eaten, our strength is lessened. It is a reminder that our bodies are in need of food and can remind us that our spirits are in need of spiritual nourishment as well.
Recall how once Jesus told his friends that they were unsuccessful in a healing mission because they had little faith and had neglected prayer and fasting?1 It may well be that we are often less effective in our own service than we could be because our spiritual fuel tank is nearly empty. Praying and fasting can fill it again.
Here is Christ’s formula for fasting: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. ... But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. Jesus said it. You can believe it.
What is the bottom line in regard to what we might do to strengthen our spiritual lives during Lent? Such words as these come to mind: Don’t worry about getting honors from others. Strive to please God.
Don’t make a big performance in order to gain public acclaim. Have clean hands and a pure heart before God. God’s promise is this: “I dwell with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit.”2
Don’t try to impress others with your prayers or giving or fasting. Pray reverently and humbly to our Father in heaven remembering to “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”3
A young missionary once had a dream of being a world-renowned preacher. Instead, his mission board sent him to a remote village in Africa to work among the uneducated and poor. Once, when he returned home on furlough, he told a church group that he had made peace with his station. “If God chooses for me to be in a small, out-of-sight mission in Africa, it is there I will help to build a bridge to his kingdom.”
He never became a well-known preacher. He did become a courageous man of God but unfortunately died young. Nevertheless, we can be certain that when he graduated to heaven, he heard the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much, enter into the joy of your master.”4
What more could anyone desire than that?
1 See Matthew 17:14-20.
2 Isaiah. 57:15.
3 Psalm 37:7.
4 Matthew 25:21.