Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which falls on 26 February this year. Lent is that season of the year when the Church prepares for Easter by first observing a period of fasting and prayer in remembrance of our Lord’s sufferings and ultimate sacrifice. These 40 days is yet another opportunity for us to encourage one another to intentionally observe a spiritual discipline that helps us in our spiritual growth.
The Prophet Joel in 2:12–17 calls us to seek to repent with determination: “‘even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (2:12–14).
The Bible places many spiritual disciplines but these two—fasting and prayer—are always associated with seeking the Lord and repentance. The Israelites, as an act of repentance had a tradition to tear their garments, wear sackcloth and heap ashes on their heads. However, the Prophet Joel called upon the Israelites to “rend their hearts and not their garments”. God is not looking for mere external displays of expressing our religion; God is seeking for a change of heart through faith in Him.
God is looking for a community of people that is broken over its sinfulness and wants to change. He is looking for a people who will be remorseful over their sins and so repent “with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning”—these are actions of sacrificial repentance.
Just as the prophet called on the community leaders to “gather the people for a sacred assemble to declare a holy fast”, we, as the Church, receive this same call. As a community of believers, gathered on the trusted holy ground for mutual encouragement and accountability, we are in the place to seek repentance; to forgive and be forgiven; to be other-centered, for today’s world is turning to be progressively inward-looking, towards personal needs, privacy and space.
The season of Lent would be an opportune time to make that difference through corporate worship, the study of the Word (be it in cell groups or Bible study groups), and service to the community at large. The Church calls for such scared gatherings to be consecrated to the Lord for spiritual renewal.
I believe this is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
It is my prayer that this Lent season takes us through a journey of spiritual renewal for the glory of God.
The Rev James Nagulan was elected President of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) in 2016 for the quadrennium. He is also Pastor-in-Charge of Tamil Methodist Church (Short Street) and Seletar Tamil Methodist Church.
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