Today is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s often called Fat Tuesday. It’s the day of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil. It is a day filled with celebrations, feasts, and packis. All of this leads up to tomorrow which is Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday begins the 40 journey to Easter with a side trip to Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday (depending on your church and tradition). It is a time where people give up things, fast, retreat, and meditate on the sufferings of Jesus which led to Him dying upon the cross for our sins and granting us salvation.
Well, at least that’s what’s on paper.
Today is usually seen as the last day to sin for a while.
The word “carnival” literally means “good-bye meat.” It was tradition to give up eating red meats and eating fish instead in the 40 days of Lent. It was tradition to do a lot of things. Now, it’s tradition to party. And who doesn’t need a party in the middle of a stinking cold winter?
The thing is that’s not the point of it all. And many Christians understand that and see that. A number of followers of Jesus do try to give up something for Lent. Some give up coffee (so not going to happen for me…I don’t think anyone would let me to tell the truth). Some give up sweets (that I could do without but I’ve been working on that one for a while). Some even give up social media (which is funny because they tweet it on Twitter or post in on Facebook leading up to it and then afterwards blog about it…not sure they get the idea). Yet this isn’t what Lent is supposed to be about.
It’s supposed to be about focusing on Jesus. On what He did. And why He did it.
In the past I’ve blogged about how I don’t give up things for Lent. In fact, I try to add things to it.
And again, this year I am doing the same.
In fact, I’m doing a whole sermon series on it. We’ll be looking at spiritual training.
Why training and not disciplines? Well, for the most part, a lot of us (and sometimes even me) are out of shape spiritually. We like the idea, we try it here or there, get tired, give up for a while, try it again, and the cycle continues. It’s just like the whole New Year’s Resolution thing with the gym.
On January 2 or 3 people flood the gyms and hit the treadmills and stationary bikes like mad. They hit them full force and within a little while get tired, tuckered out, and very very sore. They then give up and wait until the next January 2 to hit the gym again (cynical much?). The same is true with spirituality and spiritual training.
We hear how we’re supposed to spend time in prayer, spend time reading the Bible, spend time with Jesus, rest in Him, take time to focus on Him, and even serve Him in what we do. And we hear about the greats of the faith over the years like Martin Luther who prayed for four hours a day (I thin it was him), or Billy Graham who made a list of virtues that he has stuck with since his youth, or Mother Theresa who went and served in India. We could never be like that. That’s like being the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the faith (you know, body building days not post-Govenator days).
You can’t do that.
But you can begin to train small. Start small. Start easy. Ease into it. Begin it simple and small a step at a time. If you start to much too soon you’ll strain a spiritual muscle and then get all frustrated and not try again for a while. Trust me, I’ve done it. It’s frustrating and it can even hurt.
When this happens we begin to doubt ourselves–I’m not a good enough believers, I don’t have enough faith, these just aren’t my gifts, and so on.
Lent begins tomorrow. It begins a time of looking forward to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus (not zombie Jesus…but that’s for another post I think). It’s also a time to train?
Why? Because we need to. We’re training for eternity. Were training to become like Jesus in every way.
I love what Paul writes about spiritual training
“Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
So where do you need to start training? Is it in prayer? Start small…heck, there are times where I can barely make 8 minutes…but pray. Is it in studying God’s word? Start small…don’t do the whole Bible in a year plan, that can be hard on the spiritual training…start small like with a chapter a day with Mark.
But start. Start training. Get into the spiritual gym and start small, but start, and you’ll see something amazing begin to happen in your own life with Jesus.