“4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:4-5).
As we begin the season of Lent, there is a question that I often hear asked or at least contemplated by many Christians, “What am I going to give up for Lent?” There is a long-standing practice within the church that has encouraged Christians to give up something meaningful during Lent for the purpose of experiencing a small taste of the suffering and temptation that Jesus experienced to redeem us from our sin. The practice of giving something up for Lent also serves as a physical way to test and to train ourselves to choose God, rather than physical pleasure. I’ve heard of people giving up everything from candy to coffee to alcohol to Netflix (side note - I must admit I’m curious to know the percentage of those who fulfill their New Year’s resolutions versus those who remain faithful to their Lenten pledges).
While you may or may not participate in this practice of giving something up for Lent, it raises a much greater question in my mind, “How do you prepare yourself for the joys and celebration of Holy Week?” We all know the importance of preparing our homes for dinner guests, ourselves for the big work meeting or project, and our school classrooms for new students. So how do we prepare ourselves for the most important guest ever? In the busyness of life and the fullness of our schedules, how do we make room for God to work in our lives?
In one of the most beloved passages of Scripture, Psalm 23 describes the unique relationship that we have with the Lord, as we are His sheep and He is our shepherd. Those opening lines describe the beautiful and picturesque landscape with which God desires to fill our lives. The psalm speaks of green pastures and still waters. It speaks of great trust and assurance. It speaks of restoration and wholeness and purpose. It even goes so far to speak a word of great trust in the face of great terror. Psalm 23:4 speaks of a confident faith that trusts in the Lord despite the circumstances of a dark and dangerous place called the valley of the shadow of death. What is the reason for such faith? Because God is with us. He not only has the proximity, but also the means and measures—His rod and staff—to deal with what is causing our worries and fears. However, in verse 5, the scenery suddenly shifts. Here we are surrounded by enemies, but God is busy setting up camp. Here in the presence of the battles of life is where the Lord lays out his banqueting table. Here in the presence of that which threatens to overwhelm us and defeat us, he chooses to stop and rest with us, enjoying the company of our presence. What are we to make of this? And how does it apply to our Lenten preparations?
Too often we feel that we need to get our life in order before we can take time away with God. Too often we feel that we can only take the time to rest, recuperate, and refresh ourselves after the work is done and the battle is won and our lives are back in control. We ask ourselves, “How can we in the midst of the dark and deep valley or in the face of an angry and ferocious army take time to stop our work and rest with God? Yet, that is where our Lord invites us to meet Him? He invites us amid our harried and anxious existences to take a little time away. This Lent I would like to invite you not simply to “give up something,” but to include something within your Lenten preparations. I invite you to practice the God-given gift of the Sabbath. Dedicate a 24-hour time of the week to rest, recuperate, and refresh yourself, as You delight in His gifts, celebrate His presence, and share time with those that He has placed in Your life. Why? Because it is precisely amid the busyness of life that we so desperately need the rejuvenating grace of our God. Because in the face of the temptation of believing that our security, our status, and even our well-being is dependent upon what we produce, He invites us instead to rejoice in what He provides. He has provided our daily bread and more (23:5 our cup runneth over). He has given us the promise to watch over and protect us (23:4 His rod and His staff). While we sleep, He sustains. While we spend time in worship, He fills and fuels our soul for another week’s work. While we take time to enjoy the people and things that He has given us, He refreshes our sense of meaning and purpose within our work. I pray that during this Lenten season as you pause in life to fix your eyes upon Jesus Christ that you may feel more prepared for Holy Week than you have ever been before, as you come to Him refreshed, relaxed, and resting in the nail pierced hands that have done it all for you. Amen.
God’s Peace, Pastor Kurt Ebert