Lent, besides being a nuisance to clothiers and excellent fire starting tender (oh wait, that would be lint with an “i” and tinder with an “i”), originated as a season of soul searching and repentance in preparation for Easter (that would be soul searching with an “I” and repentance with an “I”). During the forty days of Lent, many believers choose to abstain from some form of pleasure, believing that self-denial will facilitate spiritual focus and serve as a mild imitation of Jesus’ forty-day fast at the beginning of His earthly ministry.
The Catholic Church has a sanctioned program of abstinence for Lent or one is free to go out on their own. Originally, Christians abstained from eating beef. (Protestants typically abstain from abstaining.) In true Corinthian style, the Lent tradition was adjusted to begin the fast with a one-day festival. The festival became known as Carnival, which literally means “Farewell to Meat”. For most participants, the festival is a gorge-fest party.
Nonetheless, Lent is to be a forty-day retreat. We all could use an occasional retreat. My daughter’s entire High School goes on an annual weekend retreat. They go to a beautiful lodge overlooking a picturesque lake nestled high in the Georgia mountains. How cool is that? In my high school, the closest thing we came to retreat was Friday night football games. Whether football, battle, or mountain getaways, the idea is the same: to pull back, away from the battle hopefully to regroup. I think it is fair to say it is often essential for survival.
I have been on a lot of retreats. We Christians retreat so we can spend time with God. Apparently, we assume that the more comfortable and beautiful the setting, the easier it is to connect to our Maker. While I am not suggesting that God is not available in beauty and comfort, I would like to challenge the idea that retreats should always be cozy and painless. It seems that Jesus, during His thirty-three year mission trip to earth, regularly pulled away from the crowds to be alone with the Father.
The surroundings do not seem to have been a great consideration in most of His retreats, but there is one occasion where Jesus very intentionally chose the setting. I am referring, of course, to His forty-day fast at Camp Barren Wilderness. One thing is sure; this retreat wasn’t comfortable or beautiful. We retreat with the intention of spending time with God. According to Matthew 4:1, the intention of Jesus’ retreat was so He could (think of this) be tempted by the devil. I don’t know about you but that puts a whole ‘nother spin on the retreat idea. Some of you might want to reconsider that WWJD bracelet your wearing.
There is an obvious question here. Why would Jesus intentionally weaken Himself in preparation for a visit from the literal personification of evil—the very one who tripped up the first man and woman and set the world, both physically and spiritually, into chaos? I know what Van Helsing would do. He would visit the church’s secret laboratory, where they are constantly developing weapons to fight evil creatures, and he would carefully select the biggest, baddest, devil-killing weapons currently unknown to man. Fortunately, Jesus is not Van Helsing, or Schwarzenegger, or Popeye; so He didn’t handle Himself according to a Hollywood script. He made His decisions based on perfect truth and perfect trust.
This spiritual mystery is bigger than me, but I have learned that we will never understand the gospel story without understanding the garden story and vice versa. There seems to be an inverse equation between the two. I will only purpose one relevant caveat to the many comparisons between garden and gospel but I hope I have piqued your interest. In the garden story, man chose to be independent from his Maker. Eve met Satan one on one. Have you ever wondered where God was and why He didn’t intervene? Do you think He was busy somewhere else and the drama being played out beneath the tree just escaped His attention? No—He was there, just one breath away.
“Abba,” would have been sufficient but she could have sounded it all out. “Father, I’m confused. I need your help…”
But Eve didn’t breathe that prayer. She didn’t want His presence and later Adam also chose to go it alone. Dependence was what they needed. Independence is what they chose. Separation is what they got.
I am amazed at how many people miss this in their understanding of the Incarnation. Jesus, while never ceasing to be God, became man—fully man. He accepted the limitations of humanity, donned His running shoes and joined the human race. Everybody says the words, “Jesus was fully God and fully man,” but many don’t really believe that He let go of the advantages of deity.
For example, they think that Jesus became tired or thirsty because of His humanity but they attribute miracles to His deity. The truth is that everything Jesus did, He did as a man, more specifically as an empty man dependent upon the Spirit. Jesus became the second Adam, and our second and only chance. Now Jesus is about to go head to head with the devil, but unlike His predecessor, Jesus didn’t go alone. Every temptation was countered by pointing Satan to the Father. Dependence is what Jesus needed. Dependence is what He chose. And reconciliation is what we got!
I am sure there are many Lent lessons hidden in the sands of Camp Barren Wilderness—a lot more than I have uncovered, but this Lent I have one focus. This Lent, I am choosing to abstain from something—independence. I know that I have a long way to go before I can be weak enough or humble enough to be totally dependent on the Father, but I want Him to show me where on the continuum of dependence/independence I reside and, like John the Baptist, I would like to decrease. I would like to celebrate this Easter a good bit less than I am today. If you wish to join me, let’s meditate on Philippians 2 for a while before reading the gospels. One more thing; let’s change the name of the festival from “Farewell to Meat” to “Farewell to me”.
Everything He did, He did through the power of the spirit. Everything He knew, He knew because the Father revealed it to Him. He studied the scripture. He prayed to the Father. He was obedient to the Spirit. Thirty-three times in the gospels, Jesus declared Himself to be God, yet when explaining His choices, He simply said that He went where His Father told Him to go and did what His Father told Him to do.
What are the ways that you’ve found yourself choosing independence over dependence recently?
What would a retreat look like if your goal was simply to remain totally dependent on God?
Dr. Michael Reid holds degrees in psychology, theology and divinity. After working as a pastor, professional counselor, and graduate school professor, he became ill and since 2008, has not been able to work. Mike believes that the ultimate joy of life is to know God. He is discovering that you can know God in sickness, disability, and pain in ways that you can’t know Him in health and comfort. He is learning daily to count it all joy!