The Season of Lent: How Much Grace Can You Handle?
If you want to be more like Christ—and what Christ-follower doesn’t?—how do you make that happen? I mean, really? Do you seriously think it’s possible to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if He were in your place if you just set your mind and heart on it? Newsflash: No matter how much, how desperately, you want to be like Jesus, you can’t do it. You don’t have what it takes.
True, every believer has Jesus alive in him or her. So if He’s already in us, why aren’t we more like Him? What’s getting in the way? Quite simply: WE are. You see, while Jesus does live in you, it’s still you He’s in.
It’s important to realize that we’re not talking legalism here, or some kind of “works” salvation. We’re simply learning HOW to let Christ at the parts of us that are resistant to Him.
How exactly does change happen in us? The short answer: Grace. Think of it like this: Grace is air. Grace is to our spirits what air is to our bodies. It’s all around us, all the time. You can’t see it, but you can see its effects. When a storm is approaching you can feel the wind, you can see it in the treetops, you can walk with it, or you can walk against it. Another example is aerobic exercise. Every athlete breathes (duh!), but some are able to use oxygen more efficiently than others. The same air is available to both, but one is capable of taking more in and using it to generate more power.
Grace is to our spirits what air is to our bodies.
Spiritually, too, you can’t see grace but you can see its effects. Whenever you see selfless love and costly sacrifice, humble service and liberal generosity, heart-felt compassion and boundless patience, you see the Kingdom wind blowing in the trees.
Spiritual disciplines are like aerobics for our spirits. There was no more grace available to Martin Luther or Mother Teresa or C.S. Lewis than there is for you. How large is your capacity for grace?
The athlete has to do some serious physical training to enlarge his or her capacity for air. We too, then, need to do some serious spiritual training to enlarge our capacity for grace. This is the only way we will ever become more like Jesus—quite simply, you will never just wake up one morning and find yourself a spiritual giant. Remember, too, though, transformation is the work of grace not training; the training just lets more grace flow in.
So what does that training look like? Well, traditionally there are two kinds of disciplines, disciplines of engagement and disciplines of abstinence. The disciplines of engagement include: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission. The disciplines of abstinence include: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. There is really an infinite list of activities that can be used as spiritual disciplines, depending on what part of you needs transformation, but these are the ones that have been practiced most faithfully and consistently over the centuries.
The most important questions to ask when you’re entering into a season like Lent is: What is it that God is putting His finger on in my life these days? Where does He want to get at more of me? In all likelihood, there’s a LOT He wants to do, right? But as the old proverb says, “Even the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So where does God want to begin this journey with you?
The most important questions to ask when you’re entering into a season like Lent is: What is it that God is putting His finger on in my life these days? Where does He want to get at more of me?
Next, you want to look at what activity you can take on (engagement) or what habit you can let go of (abstinence) that will help grace flow into that part of your life, ushering transformation into the deepest part of your being. Again, and I can’t say this enough, the transformation is God’s work, not ours. All we’re doing is putting ourselves in a position where God can get at us more readily.
For example, maybe you’ve realized lately that you’re a pretty impatient person. You believe this is an area God wants to get ahold of in you. Well, rather than simply trying to be less impatient, why not try training to be more patient? How can you train yourself to be more patient? If you were more patient, how would your life be different? Would you be better able to “go with the flow,” less concerned about control or getting your way in everything, or more willing to let other people have way occasionally?
So, next, ask: How can I train those positive qualities into not just my habits, but into my very spirit, so that they become a more natural part of who I am? Well, one way would be what John Ortberg calls the discipline of slowing. When you come up on a traffic light, get in the line with more cars in it. When you’re at the grocery store, get in the longest checkout line. Drive the speed limit (no, not 40 in a 35 mph zone, but 35!). Chew your food before swallowing it (there’s a novel idea!).
See the point? It’s not the activity itself you’re really focusing on, it’s the end result. What will this discipline PRODUCE in you? What fruit do you want to see grow on this tree? Water will help every tree grow, but every tree will produce different fruit.
This is just a start, of course, but I hope you’ll take a little time soon and pray about how God may want to lead you into a deeper walk like this with Him. God bless you as you move deeper and deeper into Christlikeness, and deeper and deeper into a life of sacrificial live and humble service!