LENT Devotions

Lent Devotion March 1-Focus

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:34-36 (NIV)

This charge from Jesus is a difficult one for us, and seems to fit with the idea of Lent, when we deny ourselves of something to try to understand a little better the sacrifice Jesus made for us. But that’s not the point that Jesus is making in this passage. He’s not challenging us to make a gesture of depriving ourselves of something to show our holiness, though there’s nothing wrong with such gestures.

What Jesus is asking of us is a complete change of focus. Jesus is challenging us to make Him the center of our life instead of self. To deny self means that I recognize that it’s not about me, it’s about Christ. It means realizing that I need to have every aspect of my life flow from my relationship with Him: my relationships, my finances, my job, my hobbies, my entertainment, my education, my politics, everything. It means moving from a self-centric life to a Christ-centric life. And when we do that, our life will change for the better.

That’s not to say that fasting from something important to us for a time isn’t a beneficial thing to do; it is. Fasting is encouraged in Scripture. But what Jesus wants most from us is a shift in our viewpoint—to let God renew our minds, as Paul says in Romans 12, so that we’ll be transformed and that we’ll become a living sacrifice to Him.

As you pray today, ask God to help point out the ways in which you’re still holding on to a self-centric life, and for the strength to put Him at the center of everything.



Lent Devotion February 26-Sacrificing All

Luke 18:28-30 “Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And He said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of GOD, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’”

There was a young and rich ruler who came to Jesus. He came to ask how he might obtain eternal life. Jesus gave him two answers: The first answer was to obey the commandments, which he claimed he had since childhood. The second answer Jesus gave was for him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor and follow Him. Sadly, the young man could not do this and he turned away.

Jesus used this encounter to explain to His disciples how difficult it was for a rich man to enter heaven. Most of us do not realize the sacrifice that is required to follow Jesus completely. Following Jesus completely means sacrificing all completely.

Prayer: “Lord, I am yours. You are my only desire. Help me to be willing to sacrifice all that I have that stands in the way of my commitment to you. Turn my heart toward You. AMEN.”



Lent Devotion February 25-The 23-foot Gorilla

The people of Chikuzen Town in Japan have built a 23-foot tall gorilla to serve as a kind of scarecrow, hoping that its size and implied strength will scare COVID-19 from the town. The gorilla is posed baring its fangs, and at night its eyes light up red, just in case the virus tries to slip in under the cover of darkness.

If only scaring away the threats of this life were that easy! We’d each have a big gorilla on our front lawn. I, for one, would wear a big one around my neck each time I left home. There are so many things in our life that seem to threaten us—economic instability, social unrest, political extremism, crime, health issues, the consequences of our past mistakes; the list goes on and on.

But as Christians we have something far greater to help us than a lifeless, fur-covered steel scarecrow. We have a Good Shepherd who walks beside us through everything we face. Psalm 23 reminds us that even traveling through the valley of the shadow of death need not cause us to fear any evil, because our Good Shepherd is right there with us— rod in one hand to fend off attacks and prod us when needed, and staff in the other to keep us moving in the right direction and pull us close when we begin to wander off.

As you pray today, thank the Good Shepherd for being with you as you navigate the difficulties life presents, and ask Him to help you trust Him so that you will live fearlessly, regardless of what threats you face.



Lent Devotion February 24-Power to Handle Temptation

Luke 4:1-2 says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve blown through that verse without ever stopping to consider it fully. Before Jesus began His public ministry, He spent 40 days—almost six weeks—in the middle of nowhere, fasting. It ends with probably one of the most unnecessary verses in all of Scripture, when it says that at the end of them He was hungry.

How many of us can identify with that concerning the thing we gave up for lent? And our time of fasting includes little breaks along the way as we pause our fasts on Sundays. Jesus spent nearly six weeks fasting completely, all while constantly being tempted by Satan. We’re given three examples in Scripture, and it’s easy to miss that these temptations happened every day—possibly all day; all while sleeping in the wilderness and completely abstaining from food for weeks on end.

And He not only survived, but He came through it with flying colors. Everything Satan threw at Him failed to trip Him up. How could He have the strength to endure that? Well, the first part of v.1 tells us that He was “full of the Holy Spirit.” That was the strength He needed.

The same Spirit who filled Jesus and gave Him strength to overcome the relentless barrage of temptations Satan threw at Him is given to every single person who has been immersed into Christ, according to Acts 2:38. He’s there to give us strength when we need it to fight any temptation that’s thrown at us—if we let Him.

In your prayer time today, ask God to help you lean into His Spirit more and more, especially when temptation comes.

But always be alert. This time in the wilderness wasn’t the last time Satan tempted Jesus. Verse 14 of Luke 4 says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” In other words, he withdrew for the moment, but he waited for good opportunities and He tempted Him again—over and over throughout His life. And he does the same with us.

All the more reason to call on God’s Spirit to fill us and strengthen us each day.



Lent Devotion February 23-Finding Real Food

Through the nearly yearlong COVID crisis we’ve seen businesses close as shutdowns spread, with many people losing jobs as a result. The government has responded with stimulus plans and expanded unemployment insurance to help people meet their needs, and people have come together to help their neighbors who are struggling to buy the basics. Food banks like our local Loaves and Fishes food pantry and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank allow people to come and get food when they’re hungry and can’t afford it.

We can get that way spiritually too. When we drift from God, we can get to where we struggle. The anxiety and fear and helplessness we can feel at times are spiritual hunger pangs, though we don’t often realize it. We crave the satisfying peace and hope of God. And He offers it freely. Isaiah 55:1 says,

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.

God says, “I have everything you need, and you don’t need any money—I’m offering it freely. Come, and satisfy that hunger; quench that thirst you have that nothing else can satisfy.”

And then he shifts to those who have resources, but have been spending them on things that look like they would satisfy, but never do. How often do we try to satisfy our hunger for meaning and purpose and hope in things like money and entertainment and recognition, only to find that they never provide what we really crave? God says through Isaiah,

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

In this season of Lent, take a close look at where you’re searching for the things that only God can provide.

As you pray today, ask God to reveal to you the areas where you need to seek Him more.

 



Lent Devotion February 22-Doing What I Dont Want to Do

I usually don’t see commercials when I’m watching TV. Most of the time I set the DVR to record something, and I watch later. But after watching a couple of games live, I’ve seen a series of commercials I really like. They involve a “Parent-ologist” named “Dr. Rick” training young people who’ve bought a home and are suddenly doing the things their parents did. We see him helping a woman who has her couch so full of pillows she can’t sit down, a guy in a hardware store who offers advice to someone who didn’t ask for it, and he tells another person that she doesn’t need a sign in her home to remind people to live, laugh, and love.

It’s funny because it’s true. The very things we scorn at one point in our life, we often do when circumstances are different. No matter how much we said it would never happen, we still did it when circumstances made it the more convenient choice. When I was a teenager, I swore I’d never get a minivan; I’ve had two. When whining about my chores, I once told my parents I’d never make my kids do chores. I never told my kids about that promise—what to guess why?

And don’t even get me started with the sin in my life.

The apostle Paul wrote, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who’s said that. It may sound familiar to you too.

But listen to how Paul ends this thought in v.25: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” There is hope, even for those things we seem bent on doing.

As you pray today, and you ask God’s forgiveness, ask for the strength to begin overcoming those sins you struggle with the most.

 



Lent Devotion 2-20-I Have Trusted In Your Mercy

“I Have Trusted In Your Mercy” (PSALM 13:5).

It is a simple verse but has a tremendous meaning. When you think about whether to label life’s circumstances as good or bad.  EXAMPLE: Your car breaks down right before you were planning on taking a family road trip and you take the car to the repair shop and the mechanic says, “Good thing you didn’t take this car out on the road, It could have caught fire!” Is that bad because of the inconvenience, or maybe good because of God’s protection? As Children of God we need to look to Him in care of us.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how God is working in our lives. His mysteries don’t always reveal their secrets to us, and how our lives can be redirected by uncontrollable detours. Perhaps God is showing us a better route to take.

To make sure that we don’t dwell on what seems to be bad, we need to recognize and trust God’s unfailing love for us.  When we stop and think about God’s love for us, we can say with the Psalmist, “I have trusted in your mercy, and I will sing to the lord, for he has been good to me” (PSALM 13:5-6).

During Lent we need to remember God’s love, and that He sent His Son to the cross for you and me, and Christ paid the price for our sins.



Lent Devotion February 19-Did God Really Say?

Read Mathew 4:1-4

For 40 days Jesus fasted and was tempted by Satan in the desert. Satan’s objective was to get Christ to submit to him and take the easy way out of a difficult situation. He tries to use doubt to deceive Christ at one of His weakest moments. This has been one of Satan’s tools throughout history and it is still at the top of his list today, “Did God really say??????”

Satan’s temptations fall into three categories: Pleasure, popularity, and power. Mathew 4:3 says: “The tempter came to Him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stone to become bread.’” Christ is fasting and His hunger is great. Satan appeals to the pleasure of food to interrupt His focus, but Christ knows He cannot bypass His purpose, to die for the sins of the world. Dying on the cross is the only way to defeat Satan and reunite mankind with God.

When we are tempted, remember the sacrifice that has been made for your soul. Christ died and was resurrected so we escape the punishment for our sin.



Lent Devotion February 18-Letting Go

Every week in Celebrate Recovery, I introduce myself as a grateful follower of Christ who struggles with (among other things) control. I don’t remember when this struggle began, though I suspect it was very early. An incident when I was about four that caused my Dad to miss the Hall of Presidents exhibit at Disney World after he stood in line for an hour leaps to mind. I was just tired of the wait, so I lied about having to go to the bathroom, just to get my way. I waited to tell him the truth until I was about 50, hoping that he’d be less angry, and thankfully he was. He only grounded me for a week.

Over the years, my struggles with control have put a strain on my relationships and caused me far too much unnecessary stress. CR has brought me a long way from where I was. I look at incidents all the time now that in the past would’ve caused me to try to engage in controlling behavior that I’m now able to handle much better. But by no means have I conquered it. My nature is one that wants to pull the strings in many situations.

This is true of my spiritual life as well. I give something to God for Him to control, and as soon as I start to get uneasy, I’ve snatched it back. I know that He’s far more capable of handling things than I am, but the desire for control wins out. And I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles with this. It’s human nature; it may be with our finances, our career, our relationships, our time, a destructive habit, or a sin, but we all have areas of our lives where we have difficulty giving God the reins.

All this, despite the fact that Scripture clearly tells us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).”

One of the aspects of Lent is giving up control to God in every area of our lives. As you pray today, ask God to reveal at least one area where you’re holding on too tightly, or taking control back from Him every time you turn it over. Ask that He give you the strength to give it to Him and let Him keep it.



Lent Devotion February 17-Repentance

Ash Wednesday is a time of repentance. Ashes on the forehead are an ancient symbol of contrition. They were an outward sign to others that a person was in mourning over his sin. It served as a public acknowledgement of their admission of sin, and allowed for a measure of accountability from others as to the extent of their repentance. Because if there’s no change in us, repentance is empty.

In his book, I Hate the Zoo, Bo Chancey says, “Repentance is way more than feeling bad or sorry for sinning. It is more than making a commitment to try not to sin anymore. Repentance entails a completely fresh and new start. It is a choice to have your entire worldview changed. Romans 12:2 tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Repentance starts with a mindset that changes from a focus on what I want, and shifts to focus on what God wants for my life. It’s trying to see the world as He sees it, with His priorities. And when our mind is transformed, our actions will follow. And our repentance will be genuine and effective.

Pray today that God will show you the areas of your life where you need to repent, and that He will help you see those things as He sees them, so that real change will take place.