Lent started on Ash Wednesday 17th February and will continue throughout the month of March. But for Christians, observing Lent is very different in lockdown.
Before lockdown, Lent might be about choosing which of our many freedoms to choose to limit. During lockdown, our choices are much more limited anyway. Since our freedom is severely curtailed by our cooperation with the authorities in seeking to limit the spread of the virus, there is much less scope for choosing to give things up.
So instead let’s focus on another much needed purpose for Lent. The seven weeks of Lent are most useful for establishing good self-disciplines. Set good patterns of holy behaviour for seven weeks and the behaviour should last into the rest of the year. Alter your attitudes for seven weeks and you are likely to feel the benefit of new attitudes for much longer. The lack of regular patterns in our life in lockdown has meant many of us have lost good disciplines. Self-discipline is less necessary when the daily demands on many of us have lessened dramatically.
Working on self-discipline is what the Apostle Paul writes about in his second letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 2:3,4 Paul says “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No-one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.”
There are a variety of hardships associated with our present Covid times. And we are helped to endure them by being more like soldiers. Soldiers are excellent with discipline. They focus on the things which matter, to the exclusion of other things which might pull them away from their allocated priorities. Discipline is drilled into them.
In lockdown we can be too easily distracted. How can we stay on task? By agreeing with others around us to be more rigorous in our self-discipline, like soldiers. This Lent, let’s drill some more discipline into our daily life. Jesus is our commanding officer so let’s enshrine his priorities into our 24/7 lifestyle. Do it in conjunction with one or two others in the church family, to keep us on track. And this will help us endure our present hardship.
If you are not taken by the military metaphor, how about the sporting one which follows it. In 2 Timothy 2:5 Paul says “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” The rules of sports might be a problem to get around for some competitors. But most sportstars see the rules as helpful limitations which are part of the challenge.
Competing to win means hours of focussed training and consistent self-discipline. Christians need that mentality, says Paul. And I reckon the season of Lent is the best time to work on it.
Praying, reading the Holy Scriptures, fasting, reading good books/ following good apps or social media providers, serving, giving, self-denial to combat self-indulgence: these sorts of things are spiritual self-disciplines which will enable us to endure hardship and grow as Christ’s disciples. And isn’t now the time?
Yours in Jesus’ name,