In light of the print release of Lent and Missions: A 40-Day Devotional, which I co-authored with Nathan Sloan, this week I am posting an excerpt from the book (also one of my favorite sections). Enjoy!
The season of Lent is about preparation and repentance. It is the forty days of the historical Christian calendar (not counting Sundays, which are traditionally reserved for public worship) stretching from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The practice of observing Lent began in the third and fourth centuries and was meant to point back to Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness and Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness. In view of the full redemption story, both of these biblical events were formative acts of preparation for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Lent is simply intended to shape us in a similar way. It is the time that Christians have historically set aside to make their hearts ready to remember Jesus’ death and to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
The tone of Lent is set by two significant days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ash Wednesday traditionally includes the imposition of ashes in the form of a cross on the forehead, often given with the declaration, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” Similarly, Good Friday bears the bittersweet recounting of Jesus’ suffering and death, traditionally including a reading of the passion narrative and the extinguishing of candles. Thus, Lent gives us space to admit the struggle: though the defiant joy of Christ’s victory is ours, it came at an unimaginably great cost; though our salvation is sealed forever, we still face mortality, indwelling sin, and a fallen world.
But there is more to this struggle.
If we who have hope are to pause for a season to lament sin and death, then should we not also lament for those who have no hope? There are billions who do not share in the victory of Easter. They are the people around us who have no one helping them understand their need for (and God’s supply of) a Savior. And they are the people around the world who don’t even have access to that kind of engagement. If we are going to prepare our hearts for Easter, then how much greater our celebration will be when we’ve been longing for all people to share in it with us!
For this reason we originally wrote this devotional in 2015 as missions pastors at Sojourn Community Church (now Sojourn Church Midtown) in Louisville, Kentucky. To be honest, “Lent and missions” is a phrase we’ve never heard. The concepts do not naturally seem to overlap. But our desire was to change that for our church members. We wanted them to experience this special season with even greater significance. We wanted them to be formed even more deeply by God’s global purpose for Easter. We wanted them to be sent into Pentecost (the season following Easter) with the same renewal and mission of the early church. And now we want that for you and your church too.
As two men who came from traditions that do not observe Lent, we feel it’s important to acknowledge at the outset of this book that Lent is unfamiliar to many Christians. Some may even find it confusing in light of its varied practices and, in some cases, malpractices. We acknowledge that some may observe Lent as nominal Christians seeking a sense of righteousness through penance and fasting. Others may fail to clearly emphasize its culmination in Easter, making introspection an end in itself rather than beholding the glory of God in Christ. Despite its capacity for being misused and misunderstood, we believe the proper observance of Lent still has great usefulness for the church.
Through the use of this devotional our prayer is that in the days to come, the Lamb of God who took away your sin will allow you to behold him anew—“having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18)—that you may more joyfully participate in his global mission. After all, the more fully we acknowledge our need for him, the more eager we are to receive him and to hold out his mercy to the unreached before they return to dust.