Feb

11

2013

Matt Smethurst|10:00 PM CT

Journey to the Cross: A Free Devotional Guide

Lent strikes many Protestants as the exclusive domain of Roman Catholics, but this season can serve any Christian as a unique time of preparation and repentance as we anticipate the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the Christian calendar, Lent (from Latin, meaning "fortieth") is the 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday. (Sundays aren't counted, but generally set aside as days of renewal and celebration—"mini-Easters" of sorts.) Whatever you might think about popular practices, Kendal Haug and Will Walker argue Lent is "first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives."

Compiled by Haug and Walker, Journey to the Cross is a free devotional guide for the season of Lent. Each week focuses on a different theme (e.g., repentance, humility, suffering, lament, sacrifice, death), and each day follows a distinct pattern: Call to Worship, Confession, Contemplation, and Closing Prayer. "Lent is about Jesus," the authors contend, and with each element "our aim is to reflect meaningfully on his journey to the cross, so that we might take up our cross and follow him."

We've excerpted a sample selection (Day 3) below. As Haug and Walker write, "May we mourn the darkness in our hearts and rejoice in the light of God who came into the world to save us!"

*************

Call to Worship 

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa. 40:3-8) 

Confession

Most merciful God whose Son, Jesus Christ, was tempted in every way, yet was without sin, we confess before you our own sinfulness; we have hungered after that which does not satisfy; we have compromised with evil; we have doubted your power to protect us. Forgive our lack of faith; have mercy on our weakness. Restore in us such trust and love that we may walk in your ways and delight in doing your will. Amen. [The Worship Sourcebook]

Contemplation

At the onset of Jesus' ministry, John announced his coming in fulfillment of Isaiah 40: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." This is the cry of Lent: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections.

An appropriate response to this announcement is to take stock of our lives, to reconsider how we're living in light of God's presence and power made available to us in Jesus. And that's what Lent is for: to reflect on our lives as they are, and as they could be.

Giving up a habit or a food or a pleasure is not distinctly Christian. People give up things all the time in the name of self-help, or worse, vanity and vengeance. The point of Lent is to reorient life God-ward. This reorientation has to do with desert and wilderness.

A "wilderness experience" in our language usually means one has been gone for awhile and now returns with new insight or perspective, "a new lease on life." Whether it's a trip to the third world, or a hike in the mountains, people are stripped of their usual comforts, removed from the safety of familiarity, and forced to see the world from a different vantage point.

Our aim during Lent is something like a wilderness experience. We want to shake up our lives significantly enough that when we reach for our usual comforts and grasp a fistful of air, we're forced to cling to Christ—his body, his blood. We want to see just how upside down our world really is as our "important things" prove to be perishable goods, as the light shines on our "righteousness" and exposes the layers of "self" beneath the surface, and as our "busy" lives are shown to simply lack wisdom.

The desire is a new lease on life, a view into the vast world of God, a deep breath and long look above the tree line of self-absorption. So in Lent we focus on getting away from the life of flesh and into the life of the Spirit, denying our ways and embracing God's.

The point of giving things up isn't to be reminded of how much we miss them, but rather to be awakened to how much we miss God and long for his life-giving Spirit. This means, of course, that Lent isn't only about giving up things. It's also about adding things, God-things.

  • Having given up junk food for a healthy diet, what will you do with the energy you gain?
  • Having given up reading magazines, what will you read now?
  • Having given up Facebook, to whom will you devote meaningful conversation?
  • Having given up lunch, how will you rely on God for the strength of "food from heaven"?
  • Having given up TV as a default activity, how will you use that time to cultivate quality family time?
  • Having given up isolation, how will you immerse yourself in community?
  • Having given up shopping, will you see those who need clothing in your city?
  • Having sacrificed whatever form of selfishness you indulge, how will you meet the needs of others?

The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don't worry about whether your sacrifice is a good one. It's not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you. Seek to replace that thing with devotion to Christ—his Word and his mission. God may lead you to give up and take up more as you go. That's good. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God, we come to you today realizing we are not how you want us to be. Help us let go of our past, that we may turn toward you and live again the life of faith. Help us call out our fear and hatred, our anger and self-pity. Lift the burden they place on our shoulders. Help us set aside our guilt and enter a season of healing. As we pray and fast today, help us become simple people, that we may see you plainly. Let us draw near to you now. Amen. [The Worship Sourcebook]

Editors' Note: Download the entire Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent. Thanks to Providence Church in Austin, Texas, for providing this free resource.

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

Categories: Christian Living
  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    http://theoldadam.com/2013/02/12/9-things-that-everybody-should-give-up-for-lent/

    That's pretty good. Feel free to share it. (just give Pastor Mark credit - thanks)

  • Jonesy

    If the Catholic Church, which perfected all sorts of lenten activities - including some very similar to what you're espousing, can't even perfect itself, (consider all the sex abuse cases by the priests), then why do you believe that these activities will do anything to curb your sins?

    • JP

      "Holiness is not the way to Christ; Christ is the way to holiness." - Spurgeon

      I don't think anyone is saying, "do these things and your sin will get better." Rather, Lent is another opportunity to look upon Christ and from our position in Him, pursue the holiness to which we've been called!

      I think this is a good opportunity to redeem the lost practice of regular repentance and celebration "mini easters" when it comes to those who've grown up catholic and/or mainline protestant. I'm thankful to Will Walker and Kendal Haug for tilling this ground and helping some of us new-reformed, protestants reclaim and redeem a healthy tradition as a Gospel tool and not remain empty practice.

      • Jonesy

        JP

        Paul says, in Col 2:20-23, that these kinds of activities appear to be impregnated with wisdom, but they lack any value when it comes to restraining our bodily lusts. As a consequence, he calls us not to submit to rules such as "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (I take this injunction to apply to the "giving up" of things mentioned in the article.)

        Now why would Paul say such a thing? It's obviously a denial of the Gospel - a denial of ALL that God in Christ has done for us while He was on Earth and is doing for us in Heaven, ALL of who He is and ALL that He has promised to us. If Christ is the ONLY one who makes me Holy by His sacrifice for my rebellion against God, then I cannot gain anything by what I DO!

        Furthermore, I have all I need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:4)? These Lenten activities have not been given to us-you do not find them mentioned in the Bible!

        Finally, Peter goes on to tell us that that we get to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in this world - a corruption that is caused by evil desires! But look at the means: we escape this corruption, we participate in His divine nature (which is holiness, cf 1 Pet 1:15-16) by His very GREAT and PRECIOUS promises.

        Ultimately, I believe that to practice what this post is suggesting would make me subject to the anathema pronounced by Paul in Gal 1:6-9.

        That is not to say that I should not pursue holiness (Heb 12:14). It is to say two things: (a) that I pursue it by depending on God's promises (Rom 1:17 - my emphasis for this purpose is on the fact that Rom 1:17 says that the righteousness from God is from faith to faith. From beginning to end it's all about faith. Faith in what? God's promises. Hence why Paul says, "The just shall live by faith.") and (b) the main promise in this context is that God has promised that I will be holy (Jude 24). I trust that Christ is able to present me before God's glorious presence blameless and with great joy!

        So I ask, why do you believe that these activities will accomplish their stated purpose? If who Christ is, what He's done and doing, and His promises can't "shake up your life", why do you believe that you can by giving up a little here and a little there?

        Under His Mercy,

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  • John

    Lent is about penance which is a man made sacramental rite practiced by Rome and a way to punish yourself for your sins.

    If you claim to be Reformed there is no season of lent. If we punish ourselves for our sins then what of Jesus' sacrifice? Not good enough? Not perfect and we have to add something?

    If you are Reformed, repent daily and give thanks for Jesus, and forget about bringing Roman practices through the back door of your church.

    It is no wonder that some, who tire of the superficiality of evangelicalism, perceive no difference with Rome and swim the Rubicon.

  • Ken Stewart

    Simply as a matter of historical record, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that the advisability of maintaining Lent was a thing commented on in the age of Reformation. The Second Helvetic Confession, chiefly the work of Bullinger, Zwingli's successor, and which 'became the most widely received among the Reformed Confessions'[Cochrane,220]took the following view in its chap. xxiv:

    "The fast of Lent is attested by antiquity, but not at all in the writings of the Apostles. Therefore it ought not, and cannot be imposed upon the faithful. It is certain that formerly there were various forms and customs of fasting. Hence, Irenaeus, a most ancient writer says, 'Some think that a fast should be observed one day only.....some forty days'. This diversity in keeping this fast did not first begin in our times, but long before us by those, as I suppose, who did not simply keep to what had been delivered to them from the beginning. Moreover, Socrates, the historian says: 'Because no ancient text is found concerning this matter, I think the apostles left this to every man's own judgment, that everyone might do what is good without fear or constraint' (Hist. Ecclesiast. V.22,40)"

    This restrained statement about the advisability of Lenten practices can be accessed in Arthur C. Cochrane, _Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century_(1966), p. 293.
    There is no attempt to utterly ban the practice; yet any promotion of it must accept the silence of the Apostles regarding it. Of course, this 1566 confession binds no one in particular at present. But it does serve to illustrate admirable pastoral and doctrinal concern which is of value beyond its own time.

  • JP

    I have no intent to "punish" myself for my sins. Christ's punishment accomplished the payment of all the debt of the Elect. However, to set aside time for fasting and prayer as a preparation for the celebration of Easter... how is that a bad thing?

    Im not covering my head with ashes nor swearing an oath to Rome. It is NOT a sacrament (even if The Roman Catholic church would claim it is).

    This particular devotional guide is full of scripture for pointing its reader to the VERY thing for which you are arguing... the remembering, celebrating, and believing of ALL God's promises for His Children Through Christ in His Word.

    When is it bad to replace temporal, earthly things with time spent in prayer and God's Holy Word? I don't refrain from TV to punish myself for my sin... but a fast from TV for the purpose of pursuing God and His Word to more fully believe His promises.

    I don't understand how setting aside time daily for extended prayer and the intentional offering up of something temporal to instead pursue something eternal (namely the Word-made-flesh) in preparation for Easter is the same as Paul's caution in Gal 1:6-9.

    If you are talking about participating in a practice to obtain righteousness and holiness then I would agree with you. And, it appears , the Roman Catholic (or Lutheran even) understanding of Lent is just that. However, is it possible to redeem the traditional practice of time set aside in preparation for Easter to focus on the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Holy Word of God and to seek to lessen the grip of the temporal on our lives by setting our minds on "things above" as Paul says in Colossians.

    I don't know the context from which you come but ours is filled with former Roman Catholics who think they need to atone for their own sin (which is incorrect) and former Lutherans who think that Lent is about not eating Chocolate or drinking soda for a month. Is it possible to redeem the tradition for those people? Calling them not to works-righteousness, or to empty tradition, but using it as a vehicle to point them to the Word of God, which I think we agree, has all I need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:4).

    This devotional takes the idea of "Lent" and instead says, lets focus on Jesus accomplished work as you consider Easter and the celebration of Jesus' victory over death, hell, and the grave. I'm not sure what "Lenten activities" aren't in the Bible that you are worried about (prayer, fasting, confession; reading, reflecting, and applying the Word of God...)

    We're not pulling out ashes or confessional booths at our house... but we are going to add to our family worship some intentional reflection and forward-looking to the Cross during this time tied with prayer and fasting (both of food and of "stuff) to follow Paul's command to "seek the things above" rather than earthly things and, by His grace to "put to death" sin and earthly snares and entanglements.

    But saying the word "lent" doesn't make me subject to Rome does it? I guess I don't get the big issue here? I do repent daily. I pay no homage to the pope. I see the HUGE differences in the view of justification and redemption and hold fast the beautiful simplicity of the Solas that came through the Protestant Reformation...Christ alone. And yet, my heart, probably like yours, still wrestles with the world. This guide is full of scripture and challenge to separate ourselves from the cares of the world (football, technology, lusts, people-pleasing, ______) in order to set our minds more fully on Christ.

    In my opinion that is never a bad thing. If I can co-opt a tradition and redeem it to point to Christ's Sufficient Righteousness... good.

    "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
    Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."

    (Colossians 3:1-11 ESV)

    • Kerri

      Amen, JP.

      • Diane

        As a former Roman Catholic....amen JP!!

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  • John

    What does it matter if you use the word "lent"--words matter-- they mean something and you don't get to make up your own definition and call it "redeemed". What's next a devotional on redeeming Monkery? I know, I know it is probably already out there. Really, do you need Lent to get you to turn the TV off?

    Where is Jenny Geddes when you need her?

    As for me and my house we will be serving up a large platter of sausages.

    "If with Christ you died to the "elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to regulations--"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." (Colossians 2:20-23) SDG

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  • http://biblicalthinker.wordpress.com John Gill

    Lent is unbiblical and has no place in a Christian's worship. A simple review of the Westminster Standards will provide all the material one needs to eschew such foolishness in the future.

    "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh."

    - Col. 2

    • Jon

      What's the big deal? Did the Apostles themselves not fast; check out Acts??? The question is; what's your motive.

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  • Ellen

    I thought the word "lent" came from the old English word for "to lengthen" - referring to the fact that it happens during the spring, a time when the days actually lengthen. The Latin word for "forty" is "quadraginta" which is pretty difficult to get "lent" out of...

  • Marina

    Curiously reading the above comments and wondering are you guys from Northern Ireland?

  • Terry Kessinger

    I had been thinking heavily and contemplating participating in Lent this season. I do like the idea of anticipating Easter with Scripture, prayer, and meditation. I also confess I like traditions. So, when I read this article yesterday morning I was hopeful that I'd come away with a clearer picture of how I was to do this. I'm a reformed Christian, not a Catholic, nor am I very familiar with Catholic traditions and practices. So, let me tell you, reading the article didn't answer my question, but the comments did.

    I believe I'll never again be romanticized by the notion of Lent, and I do believe that's exactly what happened. I was romanticized by the idea, by the history, by the piety. Yet, there is nothing more that can be done, that should be done, beyond what Christ, Himself, has done. I will meditate, I will pray and worship, and I will read scripture to lead me into Easter. I will do these things because I love Him and He has saved my life.

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    • Michael

      Great response, very helpful. I had the same concerns (and others) as I read Mike's article.

  • http://www.immanuelbc.net Robert Briggs

    Whilst I understand that the intention of the 'Journey to the Cross' is to encourage Christians to a deeper relationship with Christ I must say as a pastor that it actually strikes me as somewhat naive to actually take the Roman Catholic idea of Lent and try to Christianize it. To the untaught and the immature it has the potential to lead to all sorts of confusion and even danger. The Roman structure of Lent and the substance of it are rooted in a wrong doctrine of justification. As a result the whole pursuit of piety in Lent is rooted in an attempt to gain God's acceptance through works. To simply ignore this fact and adapt the concepts without explanation or qualification either historically or theologically in your introduction and throughout means that young and immature Christians will buy into the ideas being advocated without knowing from whence they originally come and so the potential for another 'uncommanded' tradition arises in our midst. Why the attempt to biblicize Lent? Why not simply write about the importance of certain spiritual disciplines in our pursuit of Christ as a result of saving grace? What is the attraction with Roman Catholicism? It is not Christian. Not only what we teach but the way we teach it affects those whom we teach.

  • http://taste-that-which-is-good.blogspot.com scott d. andersen

    In the words of Leonard Ravenhill: you want to give up something for lent? How about sin!

  • http://Www.stmatthewgr.com Robert Appold

    Where did the authors get the idea of the word lent meaning forty? My research says - Lent. Old English for spring, “Lenten” (lengthening of days).
    (lcms.org) In my teaching, I do direct our congregation to practice prayer, fasting, giving alms, MT 6 - not for penance but as an emphasis to live as God would have his children walk.

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  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    I believe the allegorical and ahistorical treatment of scripture here undermines the gospel and shows, once again, why the Puritans, and evangelicals who share their gospel-driven aspirations, generally don't embrace Lent.

    The author writes that Lent "prepares the way for the Lord" just as John the Baptist did. But that implies that the Lord hasn't come already and finished His work; or, at least, that He has to keep on coming, every year, through the liturgical calendar, to keep working on the salvation he hasn't finished yet.

    Further, it implies that some seasons and days are more holy than others and sanctification is attained during those few sacred times. This is contrary to the gospel-created reality that all of our lives are to be holy to the Lord.

    Why not this Lenten season, seminary students, pastors, devout Christians of all kinds, think deeply about what Christ has earned once and for all in the cross and, so, give up Lent for Lent?

    • Michael

      Thank you!

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