Season of Lent
“Even now… return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” Joel 2: 12
The Season of Lent is an important period in the Christian calendar. This Lent period was used to prepare the new believers for Baptism on Easter. These forty days (excluding the 6 Sundays), beginning from Ash Wednesday to the Holy Saturday, are days of fasting, prayer and about learning the basic truths of the Christian faith for many catechumens of the early church. This season has been passed on to us by the Church for our own spiritual benefit.
Many question the observance of lent by asking whether it is prescribed in the Bible. In the book of Joel, God summons His people to return to Him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Thus, the takeaway for all of us from this narrative is that this time of intense self-examination is a real boost to our spiritual life. These days could be used exactly for this noble purpose. When we question a useful tradition of the Church, we destroy the strong historical link we enjoy unbroken from the early Church.
Lent is also a time of preparation which leads us to meditate on the events on the Cross and the empty tomb. How else can we learn to appreciate the sacrifice of the Son of God, other than sacrificing on our luxuries and lavishness of this worldly life for a short while? Lent is a time of reflecting on the life of Jesus and understanding the purpose behind His coming. Extended time of prayers would lead to humble submission in His hands and fasting would help us to deny some of our favourites to remind us of how Jesus left his heavenly glory to die for us in this world – making this Season of Lent a spiritually beneficial time.
This is an open invitation to join the believers of Jesus worldwide to spend time with God for our own spiritual benefit. This is an opportunity to participate with the local believers in special prayers to grow as one in the body of Christ. This is a time to grow in the Lord through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer. Let us follow Joel’s instruction, “Rend your heart, and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2: 13).
“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle, or they will not come to you.” Psalm 32: 9 (NIV, 2011)
Animals at times act intelligent and behave in surprising ways. But their intelligence also has certain limitations. As the scripture reveals that animals cannot be tamed unless trained to do so. A horse or a mule needs bridling and guiding too. When these animals are trained repeatedly with external inducements, they tend to develop a pattern that we humans find useful. But note that animals cannot be talked into doing things, like human beings for instance.
Human beings are bestowed with a unique ability to understand things and rationally weigh different options presented to them in a given situation. When an instruction or an advice is given, only human beings can heed them or submit to them. It is also us humans who can heed to the promise given by God in the previous verse, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (verse 8).
Psalmist is presenting these two contrasting views in the verses to highlight the fact that only human beings are bestowed with the ability to heed to instruction, learn the ways taught to them and take guidance from the counsel given by God. By mentioning about horses and mules, God is only urging us to exercise our unique ability to submit to God’s leading and guidance.
We are special and unique in so many ways in the whole universe because of the rational powers we’ve been vested with. We do not need external inducements or exertions to obey God. We can voluntarily submit our will to him and heed to his instruction. As Christians, we know that God leads us and instructs us in many ways. Only sensible thing for us to do is to submit our lives to him on our own so that he might lead us.
“… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heaven-ward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 13 & 14.
As we enter into a new year, let us heed the words of Paul and forget what is behind and move forward to the goal which God has set for us.
Paul is delineating what he is leaving behind in verses 5 & 6 – his pride of being a perfect Jew in birth and also in all the legalistic righteousness. But he is moving in a different direction now and he can reach his goal, only if he leaves behind the heavy baggage of the past.
We might also have baggage of fear, pride, anger, bitterness etc., in us. If we are to enter into the New Year with them, we would be the same sad person. But if we choose to leave them behind and ponder upon the goals God has given to us, we would move forward.
It is not only the negative things, but we also need to leave behind our successes and achievements of the past year to reach newer levels in the coming year.
We should not be struck with, either the problems or the victories of the past year. But we need to seek God’s grace anew to face new challenges of the New Year and move forward.
“I thank God every time I remember you” Philippians 1: 3 (NIV)
Paul was genuinely grateful for the people whom he encountered in his life. He cherished them and made sure that they knew about it. That is why in most of his letters we see this phrase about praying for others and remembering others’ good deeds.
When Paul was writing this, he was almost at the end of his ministry and in prison. He did not have much material achievements to cherish. Only thing he could find boasting about was the relationships God had given him with people through the apostolic ministry. He had earned many people through gospel.
When he remembered Philippian church and all their love, he was bubbling with joy and praising God for their lives.
God has given many people in our lives – Big or small, influential or normal. God expect us to cherish them in our lives. We should remember them and thank God for them.
We also need to remember the love of Philippians towards Paul. How much they warmed his heart. Are we living a life which bring smile to others? Will there be people who say “I thank God for you in my life and without you my life would not be enriched like this”?
Let us strive to remember who love us and cherish them.
Let us also live a life which would bring smile to others.
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ” Philippians 1: 2 (NIV)
Grace and peace are words which are loaded with theological meaning. But it could simply be said that these two are the essence of a content life. After all what a man needs except God’s grace and God’s peace to make the life happy.
Paul is greeting the Philippian church members with the wish that they might have this grace and peace. It is the common greetings he uses in most of his letters. In this way he also reminds the readers that his desire for them is to receive these two important things which Christ offers.
Paul defines the gospel to the Ephesian leaders as gospel of grace of God (Acts 20: 24) and gospel of peace (Eph 6: 15). It is the gospel or the good news of Jesus Christ which brings grace of God to us through salvation and ultimately results in bringing peace between God and man.
This peace is the result of Grace of God!
This peace is the unshakable peace!
And this peace is not dependent on the circumstances and it is given to us as a gift from God because of the Grace.
The modern man is driven by many ambitions in life. He is too busy pursing happiness without realizing that it is only by receiving Grace and Peace from God he could be happy. This is what we strive for throughout our lives through our jobs, families and other activities. God is giving these things free through the gospel of his son. When we humbly receive this, we will have a fulfillment in our jobs, families etc.
Let we also desire to experience this grace and peace which God gives through Jesus Christ every day.
“To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” Philippians 1: 1 (NIV)
Holy people essentially mean separated people. By mentioning overseers and deacons, who are leaders of the church, on one side and calling all other ordinary Christians as holy or separated, Paul is making a point here. Each and every Christian is a separated person in Christ.
Every Christian knows that there are some in the Church who are separated for special ministries for the edification of the Church. They commit their lives fully for God’s work according to the talents and calling given to them. They live a dedicated life for this particular task. But by calling all the normal Christians holy, Paul is pointing that it is not only the ministers who are separated for God’s work but every Christian who have accepted Christ.
By accepting Christ and being in Christ, a person essentially commits his whole being to be under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He is separated for God. It is not only the full time ministers who are to live a holy and separated life but it is the duty of every one who claims to be in Christ to do His bidding and live a separated life.
It is common to separate ministry from secular work. But here the implication is clear. As much as a minister has a holy work to carry in his ministerial duties, a lay person also has same type of duty in his office or business because he is also a separated person.
God has separated each and everyone of us from the world to be his. We should recognize this fact and be faithful to that task for which we are separated.
May God help us to live this separated life for His glory where ever we are. May we be reminded every minute of our lives that we are separated people.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…” Philipians 1: 1 (NIV)
Paul was the founder of Church at Philipi (Acts 16: 15). Though he had a special status in the heart and the history of the church at Philipi, he describes himself and Timothy as servants or slaves of Christ. He is consciously putting himself down as a servant/slave so that Philippians would know that in God’s kingdom no one could claim superiority.
Everyone at Philipi must have known what it meant to be a servant or slave. Because slavery in the first century Roman world was very common. But it must have been quite a shock for them to hear a powerful apostle like Paul calling himself a servant. But this instance had a great lesson for Christians at Philipi and now has for us.
By calling himself and Timothy as servants, Paul emphasizes that they are to obey their master. They cannot have any mission contrary to the mission of their master. Their purpose in life is which is given by the master.
This consciousness made Paul to be humble in spite of his successful ministry and life. This fact made him to look at his fellow workers as partners and not as rivals. This undisputed obedience to Jesus, like a bonded slave to his master, made him the greatest apostle of the first century through whom Christianity spread like a wild fire.