I’ve been thinking that churches without lectionaries (which, in part, help lead through seasons) are really missing out, especially during Lent. Lent is an incredible time for spiritual maturation. Indeed, it’s supposed to be. It’s deliberately solemn. It’s intentionally reflective. The Christian Church aims herself during Lent in ways that she doesn’t at other times of the year.
Although, no matter the season, she doesn’t play by the world’s rules while doing this. She can’t. And why? Because the Church is bound to the Lord’s course for maturity. Here’s what I mean.
For Lent in particular, one of its chief aims is to pull down our defenses. It labors to explode the barricades we put around ourselves. Sometimes these barriers are erected to hide our real selves from others. In other words, we don’t want people to know how rotten we truly are. Perhaps they’re guarding an unholy self-righteousness that cannot see its own faults. In that sense, maybe they’ve been built to protect secret behaviors we just can’t bring ourselves to categorize as sinful because deep down inside, we know if we call them what they are, that means we’ll have to change.
Sometimes we just don’t know why the barricades are there. Maybe something dreadful happened to us, and now we’re guarded. Perhaps they’ve been learned from people who were nothing short of bad examples.
No matter what builds or supports our defenses, Lent is a flamethrower aimed at a paper house. It’s a wrecking ball, and with each of its concussive blows, more of humanity’s need for a Savior is revealed until, finally, we’re standing at Good Friday’s cross surrounded by rubble.
This is good. It’s all part of Christian maturity’s process—a course of spiritual development that involves admitting who we are at our epicenters—our dreadful nature and the need to see it wholly overthrown. It is a humble embracing of God’s truths—terrible or comforting—rather than boldly holding to one’s deceptive self.
In short, it takes spiritual maturity to admit to Sin and, thereby, to be found confessing it. In some ways, worldly maturity means reaching self-sufficiency. It means reaching the end of one’s life and, alongside Sinatra, saying, “I did it my way.” I heard that song played at a funeral. It made me sad. Christian maturity means steering clear of doing things our way. It means being utterly dependent upon Christ, upon doing things His way. Lent brings this into incredible focus. It reminds us that Sin is our way. And then it shows us the One hanging on Good Friday’s cross. It shows Him hanging there, not for Himself, but for us. This is His way, and it saves us.
In a way, Christ indicates this humble maturity in Matthew 18:1-6. It’s there He claims that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are the ones who humble themselves like children. In other words, when a Christian grows up—as he matures spiritually—he will be less like a self-sufficient, independent adult and more like a child whose trust must be placed externally. Childlike faith won’t resist truth’s hand. It won’t see it as invasive. Like a terrified child, fearful of this world’s monsters, it knows its own inadequacies and calls to the One who can provide what’s needed. Relative to humanity, this means rescue from the sinful predicament that keeps mankind in bondage to Death.
Lent helps cultivate this awareness. It helps take strides toward this kind of maturity.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Saul Bellow once said, “A man should be able to hear, and to bear, the worst that could be said of him.” Ten minutes on social media and Bellow would have labeled us as an immature society. In a way, Lent agrees with him. Spiritual maturity braves accusation, not just from others, but from God Himself. It knows it can be wrong. And yet, Lent’s undertow—a gripping current leading to the cross—reminds the Christian just what it is that enables a believer to admit to the hard news and be preserved through it.
The Gospel—the good news that we have not been left to our dreadfulness. Jesus, the Son of God, has been given over for our rescue.
Indeed, God wants us to know the depths of our very real need. In fact, it’s His love that carries the dreadful communication to us. In other words, He shows us our Sins because He cares. But then, He nails its solution to a cross. Right there, pinned to its splintery beams, we behold God’s love in the flesh. This love changes us. It enables us to confess our deepest dependence and cling to the only One who can provide what’s needed.
Regardless of the season, this is the heart and soul of the Church’s message. But if you miss it the rest of the year, it’s all but on steroids during Lent.
My prayer is that Lent is leading you in this way. If you’ve taken a chance to immerse yourself in it, I’m sure, like me, you’ve learned it certainly is capable.