Lent and Introspection
As most of you will know, today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day in Lent. Depending on several factors you may embrace or reject Lent for any number of reasons. This post is not going to try and "sell" Lent to you or dissuade you from participating in Lent. If you're interested in why I think the church should follow an annual liturgical calendar (including Lent) you can read my post on the topic here. If you're interested in my thoughts on liturgy in general then be sure to check out my whole Liturgy Series here. Now that I've gotten those shameless plugs out of the way I'd like to talk about Lent and introspection.
The season of Lent has historically been a time when the church as a whole and its individual members examine themselves to see which parts of their lives aren't living up to the standard of the Gospel. In many ways, the Lenten season serves on a macro-scale what the confession of sin serves on a micro-scale in the Sunday worship liturgy. The practice of "giving something up" for Lent is the practice of testing one's heart to see if something has become an idol to you. In short, the season of Lent is a season of introspection.
Introspection is a holy, righteous and Biblical thing to do. Throughout the Psalms cries of, "search me and see if there be any grievous way in me oh Lord." (Psalm 139:23-24) are continually lifted up. Further, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church to examine itself to see if they are "in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Christians should regularly make practice of examining their hearts' and praying that God would search them. This is one of the reasons why the corporate confession of sin is so important in the liturgy of the church.
Yet while the practice of examining one's heart in prayer and confession is Biblical and good, this practice cannot be the ground upon which one builds their entire faith. Our emotions and perception of self are shaky, much like the sandy ground the foolish man builds his house upon (Matthew 7:24-27). Furthermore, much of the American Evangelical church is built, almost solely, on this sandy ground: "Salvation" is determined not according to God's declaration of acceptance in our baptism but by our walking the isle for an "altar call" at a middle school youth retreat. One's "relationship with God" is not determined by His weekly invitation to the Lord's Table but by our individual prayer life and Bible study. This modern trend in evangelicalism places the emphasis of one's standing with God on individual experience and emotions rather than the objectivity of God's actions.
None of this should be understood as entirely disparaging the middle school youth retreat or personal prayer and Bible study. Rather, I want to point out our modern tendency toward the individualization of the Christian faith.
With this in mind I want to offer an exhortation to those of you who might be observing Lent this year. Do not simply add Lent to your personal devotional life. Do not simply make Lent another expression of the individualism that is so rampant in the current American church. Rather, see Lent as an opportunity to join with your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world in a season of self-examination and repentance. Focus more on the corporate expressions of Lent in Ash Wednesday services and in Holy Week in addition to giving something up!
Food for thought.