News and Views
As of Ash Wednesday, February 13th, we are in the season of Lent, the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Lent began in the early church as a time of intense preparation for baptism around Easter time, came to include prayer and fasting, and has continued as a time of fasting, as personal sacrifice, from some particular enjoyment or pleasure. This giving up of something especially enjoyed can involve considerable self-discipline and even discomfort. At the same time, by giving something up, there can be significant financial saving. The significant aspect of the observation of Lent is not following a practice ritualistically or legalistically, but in using a practice in a way which enhances personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I recently encountered the idea that the giving up of a favourite treat or activity for Lent matches very well with giving to meet the needs of others, both physical and spiritual.
First, lets look at the several concepts involved in Lenten "fasting" as usually practiced today. There is the idea of sacrifice, of giving up something we want and enjoy in order to identify with and show appreciation for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. There is the idea that by denying ourselves we can gain better control over our self-centredness and selfishness, can reduce our concern for self and having our own way. By reducing the way we pamper ourselves, we can focus more on obedience to Jesus. Giving something up for Lent can, indeed, help us to focus less on self and more on Jesus, more on aligning our will with God's will, more on seeking to know God, more on appreciating and praising God for all He has done for us.
Jesus said that whatever we do for those considered "least," for the poor and the needy, we do for Him. Therefore, it really seems natural that the savings realized by giving something up in remembrance of His sacrifice for us should go to help the poor and needy, whether in our own communities or whether in far distant lands. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, and this is certainly still true today, both here and abroad. Many need food, clothing, safe water, medical care, the necessities for getting an education. Sometimes it seems that the most difficult part is deciding which place to give will make the best use of our gift.
It helps to remember that the most important decision that every person makes in this life is the decision of what they will do in regard to Jesus Christ. Every other decision affects only the few years of this life here on earth, but whether or not one accepts Jesus' free gift of salvation affects all the countless years of eternity. Therefore, it is important that the help we give include a clear presentation of the Gospel. As one author noted, there are many communities in India where Christians have built a hospital but there is no church. Meeting only physical needs does not meet the greatest need, that of meeting Jesus Christ and knowing Him well enough to make an informed decision whether or not to accept Him.
It has also been observed that when people come to Jesus, their lives improve. When they come to Jesus, their priorities change and they learn to consider others more. As they follow Him more and more closely, they drop the harmful behaviors and adopt healthier lifestyles. They become more open to learn how to better parent their children, how to eat for better nutrition. Their new hope gives them a greater willingness to work toward the betterment of themselves and their families, and they can better utilize the help they are given.
So there is a natural connection between giving up something in observance of Lent and giving to meet the needs of others. Observing Lent is to remember Jesus and all He did for us, and this connects naturally with also giving to help others and to spread the Good News about Him.
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