by E.F. Pemberton
The word Lent means "Spring;" we use it now when we speak of the spring fast--the forty days before Easter Day--I mean forty days not including Sundays, for Sundays are never fast days.
Does the word "fast" frighten you? Does it mean something hard, something very distasteful, or perhaps something that does not concern you at all? If so, it is because you have not yet learnt for yourself (as I hope you will this Lent) its true meaning and happiness.
This is the invitation which our LORD sends to each one of us this Lent--listen to His Voice, and then read the following hymn.
Jesus speaks, "Come ye yourselves (here mention your own name) apart into a desert place, and rest awhile."
Read this hymn.
With tender look, and voice of thrilling grace,
The SAVIOUR once to His disciples said,
"Come ye apart into a desert place.
And rest awhile the aching heart and head."
He says so still to all who are His own,
To all aweary with the world's sad strife,
"Come, spend with me a little while alone,
Leave the hot fever and the fret of life.
"Come from the world's hard struggle and its din,
Discords that pain the ear and never cease,
Wild stormy passions, tumults of man's sin,
Which put to shame the angel's song of peace.
"Come, when perplexed by doubt or anxious fear,
And I will make dark things all clear and plain,
Will shed the light of hope on dull despair,
And give true peace where now is only pain."
C. D. Bell.
Yes; JESUS is calling you and me into a "desert place"--"desert" because for a time, at least, we shall give up some earthly joys; but what wonderful joy instead--if we go into this desert place, we shall find JESUS there! It is to rest awhile with Hint that He calls us.
Let us now divide our thoughts under three headings, viz.:
1. Why we should fast or practice self-denial.
2. About some of the ways in which Satan will try to hinder our fasting.
3. Of some ways in which even the busiest of us can fast or deny ourselves.
(1) Why should we fast?
The greatest reason of all is, because Jesus fasted. And all that JESUS did, we, His followers, must try to imitate. There is a poem by George Herbert which says:
''Who goes the way that CHRIST hath gone,
Is much more like to meet with Him,
Than one, who journeys by byways."
JESUS fasted for forty days. Shall we refuse to imitate Him? No; let us each one resolve "to go the way that CHRIST hath gone," that is the only right way for us.
The Church, too, bids us fast. If you look in your Prayer Book you will find that, among other fast days, the forty days of Lent are set apart to be observed by every member of the Church. If we do not fast we are not trying to imitate Jesus; we are disobeying the Church.
(2) Hindrances to Fasting.
The devil does not like us to fast. Why? Because he knows too well that if we fast we are stronger in grace, we are more able to resist his temptations. The devil is sure to come to you if you fast. He came, you know, to our LORD, when He fasted, to tempt Him, and he still comes to us, His followers. He tempts us in different ways; some he tempts to irritability of temper, making them perform their acts of self-denial grudgingly, making them cross and gloomy became of their self-denial, thus making the self-denial lose its whole value, for what we decide to give up, we must give up cheerfully, as a loving offering to GOD in sorrow for our sins.
Some he tempts in an opposite way, he makes the fasting seem very easy and delightful, so those persons are tempted to think, "How good I must be to give up all so easily;" thus, as in the first case, spoiling the whole value of those acts of self-denial, for any pride is as a scorching sun which takes all freshness from our acts and makes them utterly unworthy to be offered to GOD. If we are tempted in this way, let us increase our self-denial, and dedicate each act to GOD, saying, "LORD, help me to do this to show my love to Thee, help me through this to be stronger in my fight against sin, and especially the deadly sin of spiritual pride."
(3) Some Rules of Fasting or Self-denial.
I want you either to make some rules for yourself, or to choose two or three from the following list. (Of course those who work hard, or are delicate, must not deny themselves in the quantity of food they take, for that would unfit them for the work which is their duty, or would increase their delicacy.)
Get a notebook and write down at the beginning the rules you intend to keep, numbered i, 2, 3, etc., and then make a little table like this at the beginning of each week, and then at the end of each day read your resolutions, and ask yourself after each one if you have kept it. If you can answer "Yes," put a mark like this (i) in the space you have made for your first resolution mark; if "No," put a mark like this (o) instead. You will find this little plan a great help to you for making you careful in keeping resolutions. You can choose, if you like, one or more rules from each of the following sets. It is right for our Lent resolutions to include Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer.
Fasting or Self-denial.
I. Not to eat sweet things.
2. Not to eat salt, pepper, or mustard.
3. Not to take sugar in tea, etc.
4. To eat no meat on one or two days in the week.
5. Not to read amusing papers or books.
1. To give to GOD what you would have spent in sweet things, sugar, etc.
2. To make up your mind to do some little thing, strictly to please another, every day.
1. To get up five minutes, or more, earlier, and to give that five minutes to special prayer or religious reading.
2. To practice (if it is not already your custom) short prayer at midday.
3. To use the Collect for Ash Wednesday every day.
4. To read a short Lent reading every day.
In making these resolutions, do not let us forget the real object of our fast. We deny ourselves to subdue our bodies, so that our spiritual life may increase. We fast that we may be stronger to fight against our besetting sin, our bad habits, and faults. If you do not know, find out at once what is your besetting sin, i.e., the sin you most frequently commit; fight hard against it, and pray for the opposite virtue every day.
Spring time is such a helpful time, everything reminds us of growth: the trees budding, the flowers coming into bloom, the birds building their nests, all nature becoming more and more beautiful. O may GOD find that same growth of beauty in our souls by Eastertide!
One word more. Do not get discouraged if you feel it is a "desert place." It is hard to give up even very small earthly pleasures. If you fail, do not give up in despair, try again. JESUS will be there to help you.
"Well I know thy trouble,
O my servant true;
Thou art very weary,
I was weary too;
But that toil shall make thee
Some day all Mine own.
And the end of sorrow
Shall be near My Throne."
Hymns A. & M.
Lent for Dummies by Christopher S. Wendell
Our scripture lesson gives us clues about what might be good things to be doing during lent. Jesus suggests generosity (giving alms), prayer, and self-denial (fasting). Jesus doesn't tell us what to do or even why but simply how – how to give alms, how to pray, and how to fast. In this way we avoid the motivation of the hypocrite and discover the deeper meaning of these spiritual practices.
The Mystery of Lent by Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.
A season so sacred as this of Lent is rich in mysteries. The Church has made it a time of recollection and penance, in preparation for the greatest of all her feasts; she would, therefore, bring into it everything that could excite the faith of her children, and encourage them to go through the arduous work of atonement for their sins. ...
Practice During Lent by Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.
Penance consists in contrition of the soul, and mortification of the body; these two parts are essential to it. The soul has willed the sin; the body has frequently co-operated in its commission. Moreover, man is composed of both soul and body; both, then, should pay homage to their Creator.
Some Hints for Lent by the Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall
The chief duties of Lent are Retirement, Prayer, Fasting, Repentance, and Almsgiving.
Behavior During Lent
A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Bath and Wells to his Clergy concerning their Behavior during Lent. By Thomas Ken, D.D. London, 1688
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