Lent and the Need to Self-Examine

by Matthew Clark

Lent is one of the traditional times of fasting in the Christian calendar.  In days of old in England, Advent was also a time of fasting.  It may seem curious to the uninitiated observer as to why we as Christians would deny ourselves in the interests of spiritual growth particularly with a festival coming.  Surely the coming excitement should include celebration, not a period of sombre reflection?  The truth is that we are not making sacrifices by denial, but by making space.  As we anticipate the great events in our devotional year, we should make space in our lives to contemplate God’s word and inspiration to draw closer to Him.

In Lent, our particular mission is to anticipate the death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus; His selfless and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.   As the writer of Hebrews expresses “For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews Ch 10).  It is this extraordinary event for which we are preparing ourselves – the one perfect payment for our sins by the grace of God our Father and the love of Jesus our Lord.  

In that preparation, I would encourage you to draw back from the busy-ness of the world and spare a little extra time for reading and devotion.  In my quiet time I reflected on the words of Psalm 32 and came to understand more about the joys of perfect forgiveness that Jesus brings.  In this Psalm, David expresses His joy of redemption in a hymn of praise to God and gives us a powerful insight into not just the danger of sin, but the effect of sin – and in particular the effect of unrecognised or unconfessed sin.  

David begins Psalm 32 by explaining the prize of redemption that we approach in Lenten meditation. 

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Psalm 32:1-2

He speaks of two blessings:  The blessing of salvation, of being able to join God in His Kingdom and also the simpler earthly blessing of transgressions being forgiven; changing our lives for the better.  In verse 3 David explains the effect of the weight of sin on the living soul:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer

Psalm 32:3-4

While we have the divine gift of Jesus conquering death for us, we also have a part to play in the cycle of forgiveness.  Too often we fail to recognise where we have sinned, not least because we are reticent to look deep into our hearts.  David’s observation here is very practical.  He speaks of the effects of keeping silent, as we are tempted to do, telling us that when we stay silent, it is going to hurt – “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long”.  This is such an important message to us.  So many people suffer both physically and mentally under the weight of guilt.  It affected David deeply – “For day and night   your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped   as in the heat of summer.”

Our Lenten challenge is to re-examine our own responsibility for whatever may be sapping our spiritual strength.  We speak of a close equivalent, depression, nowadays as a ‘chemical imbalance’.  I have great respect for the advances that have been made in mental health care and treatment.  However, the trending issue is to blame the world around us for our pain.  

The cause of mental, physical and spiritual anguish may well be closer to home than we care to think.  The Christian response is to look for the sin and guilt that separate us from the love of God and His redemption.  We do this by self-discovery, removing the burden of guilt that is so damaging to the fulfilling life that God intends for us.  David says

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin

Psalm 32:5

Uncovering our inner faults is the Christian devotional way forward.  It is not an easy path to take, but it is a road to blessing.  For sin to be forgiven, the fault first needs to be discovered in faithful humility and then presented to God.  Our Heavenly Father welcomes this; we can confess with confidence as there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents.  Jesus came to find sinners; they were a priority to Him.  Examination, discovery, confession and regeneration lead to blessing.  David rejoices in the change that a deep cleaning of the heart brings and concludes his Psalm:

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in Him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Psalm 32:10-11

David was a remarkable king, spiritual leader and example; not because he was a perfect man, but because he was an imperfect man with a yearning to be in the presence of God. He laid his imperfections before God in faith and in the knowledge that he would be restored.  This aspect of Lent sounds like a tough journey, and I would not pretend that it is easy.  However, as we bring our inner thoughts to God in humility and repentance, we can do so confidently with the prospect of Joy.  

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

God’s gift is beyond price and beyond our human imagination.  In loving response, we lay our lives before Him to prepare to receive our risen Lord and Saviour.  The blessing of allowing God full access to our hearts, by examination and confession, is one to grasp with joy.

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