Journey Notes for March 2019
“Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” Philippians 3:1
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
How do you approach our season of Lent? Do you see it as a time of sacrifice and surrender—giving up something significant to honor the sacrifice of Christ? Do you spend the time in quiet and solitude, reflecting on the power and promise of the cross? Do you strive to simplify your days by fasting—emptying yourself so that there’s more room for Christ?
I recently came across a book by Max O. Vincent entitled, Because of This I Rejoice: Reading Philippians During Lent. I was intrigued since joy is not a gift that I would have associated with this season of penitence and preparation as we get ready for Good Friday and the Celebration of the Resurrection. In his introduction, Vincent writes:
Paul shares in Philippians how he practices certain disciplines with great joy. It characterizes his devotional practices. Focusing less on ourselves and more on how these practices connect us to Christ imbues the activities with joy. Through the resurrection, God transforms the cross from a symbol of shame to a source of Christian living. Joy for Christian living flows from the cross. The cross moves us to focus on God instead of self and to conform our bodies to the life of Christ. Spiritual practices like prayer, witnessing, and giving are joyful acts for us as we live Gospel-shaped lives. Reading this letter, in which the cross is so central and joy so prominent, I became convinced that God invites us to joyful transformation through disciplines that mold our lives to the life of Christ.
In other words, as we engage in some of our traditional Lenten practices, we should strive to move beyond a focus on ourselves, so that we can embrace the good news of what God has done in Christ. All of our spiritual disciplines, not just during Lent but year-round, should help us to view life through the lenses of the new life offered to us through the cross and the empty tomb, and that should fill us with hope and joy.
Jesus, in the Gospel according to Matthew, would remind us, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1).” During Lent, if we look to enhance our prayer life when we pray, then it’s not about fancy words or elaborate models. It’s about praying earnestly from the heart, communicating with the Lord.
If one of your Lenten practices is to give something up or give something away, don’t make a big deal out of it, drawing attention to yourselves. Do it instead to God’s glory, thanking God for what you are able to do, and count it all joy. And Jesus goes on to say that if you fast, don’t look dismal, don’t fast so that others see how good you’re striving to be. Put on a happy face, knowing that your fast is for God and not for yourselves or for others. Count it all joy—for God’s glory, not yours.
Lent seems like the perfect time to celebrate with joy the new life that we have in Jesus Christ. It’s a great time to seek to grow deeper in your faith and your love of God, which is a joyful activity. It’s also the perfect time to reach wider, as you share the joy of knowing the Lord through your words, but especially through your actions. May we use this holy season to help others rejoice as we move together toward the remembrance of Good Friday and the great joy of an empty tomb. Count
Count it all in joy,