Lent is so often looked upon as being the season for giving things up, I’ve already met with people who are giving up chocolate or sweets in their entirety and I wonder what the value is if we then gorge ourselves on Easter Day.
My belief is that the point of Lent is the opportunity for some self-examination, hence the importance of Lent courses, maybe a book to be read during Lent and yes, even self-denial so long as we shift our drive from things that give us short lived pleasure and concentrate more on things that are of lasting value to the welfare of others and the building of the Kingdom of God.
I have just spent a few days away on retreat and we have been reflecting on our calling, being with a group of clergy, we have all responded to God’s call into a fairly specific model of ministry. I have heard colleagues bemoaning the work, the Church, the congregations and the communities we are called to serve. This isn’t the attitude of the clergy alone, I often hear people complaining about how hard work is in the Church today as we are expected to do things we would prefer not to do, Church often appears to be a chore, not a joy, in the same way that people find self-denial almost a kind of punishment.
We do well to remember some of the unwilling saints in the Bible, look back to people like Noah, Moses or Abraham, God called them to tasks that were hard, challenging and often dangerous, even life threatening. People like Jonah were hardly willing volunteers, people saw themselves as too old, too young, over qualified, under qualified or too busy, yet God called the most unlikely people to transform his world. Even as our attention turns to the New Testament, Jesus picks a bit of a motley crew as his disciples, he doesn’t pick the great theologians, the wealthiest and most influential people of his time, he picks fisherman, tax collectors, just ordinary blokes.
Even Saint Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist in the Christian Church was the most unlikely and as he sought to respond to his calling, he faced house arrest, ship wreck even personal affliction and maybe we do well to remember that calling is seldom easy and without challenge. Why should we be any different? We might well live in an age of labour-saving devices making life easier than for our ancestors, but the work of mission is still as vital as ever.
If you feel compelled to give up chocolate for Lent, please do so, but in your self-denial, devote your time to God who continues to deny self for us and our wellbeing, be prepared to go to places you do not want to go, do things you do not want to do, serve people you do not want to serve and don’t complain, why? Because work in service for God is always worthwhile.