The liturgical calendar of the Christian church is composed of different seasons that coincide with the biblical story of salvation. Evangelicals and Pentecostals, myself included, have not traditionally observed the practices and festivities of the liturgical calendar. However, these seasons add spiritual rhythms and rejuvenations for a life a faith living in an evermore distracting yet evermore monotonous world. These can be spiritually refreshing, inspiring, and edifying to practice, not as requirements but as spiritual disciplines.
Lent is a season within the liturgical calendar lasting forty days (not including Sundays) wherein believers usually give up certain foods (fasting), and focus on prayer, repentance, giving and charity, and self-sacrifice among other things. These forty days help us commemorate the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before the inauguration of his ministry (Luke 4:1-2). The wilderness episode has a lot to teach us (temptation, scripture, etc.), but the idea that Jesus was in the wilderness as preparation for subsequent ministry, experiences, and assignments helps us to see how we could and should think of Lent in similar terms for our own life.
The forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness praying and fasting before his ministry correspond with other biblical stories where the number forty also represented preparation. In the story of Noah, rain fell on earth for forty days, signifying the preparation of a new phase in the relationship between God, humanity, and the earth (Gen 7:17-23), an idea captured by the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants (Gen 8:20-9:7). Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai when he received the Torah from God so that the Hebrew people could enter into covenant with God (Exo 24; Deut 9:11). The Hebrew people spent forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, in preparation for entering the Promised Land as only the second generation out of Egypt was allowed to enter (Num 32:13). When Moses sent the twelve spies to the Promised Land, they explored the land for forty days (Num 13:25). Before ascending to the Father, Jesus spent forty days with the disciples speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, in preparation for their own Spirit empowered ministry. (Acts 1:3, 8).
The number forty within these biblical stories symbolizes a time of preparation that includes purging, purifying, training, strengthening, and transformation. In the same way, Lent can be a season of preparation as we continue in our journey with Jesus and as we reach towards goals, dreams and the calling given to us by God. As we practice diverse spiritual disciplines this Lenten season, keep these three points in mind:
First, our preparation is about transformation. Transformation is always outward and inward; it’s a preparation of abilities, skills, comportment, and behavior, but also attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. God is preparing and transforming us in heart and mind – our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving – for ministry, assignments, and future experiences of life.
Second, our preparation is set within a continuation and trajectory of God’s work in our life. Jesus was spending time praying and fasting for his ministry – for the people, for his works, for his cross. At the beginning of the year you might have had the opportunity to prayerfully create new goals for your life. Think of your preparation in continuity with those goals, with your vocation, and with the direction that God has for your life.
Third, our preparation is Spirit-lead. The story of Jesus in the wilderness in Luke mentions that it was the Spirit who led the Spirit-filled Jesus into the wilderness to pray and fast. After returning to Nazareth from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit,” he read the Isaiah passage proclaiming his Spirit anointing for his ministry (Luke 4:14-18). In a similar manner, seek the guidance of the Spirit this Lenten season as you consider which spiritual disciplines to take up or which practice, food, or item to give up. Seek the Spirit’s guidance as you continue in the Spirit’s direction, discernment, and empowerment for life and vocation.
Wherever the Spirit leads you, I hope and pray this Lenten season can be a time of preparation as the Spirit guidance you, transforms you, and continues to lead you in your trajectory and journey with Jesus.
The middle of three brother, Nehemias was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from LABI in 2009, then obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Vanguard University in 2011, and a Master’s in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2015. He currently works at LABI as Chief of Staff and as an adjunct professor teaching courses such as New Testament, Old Testament, among others. He married Gaby in December 2015 where they live in Pasadena, California. They both serve as worship leaders and Sunday school teachers at New Life Church in Mid City Los Angeles.