Many of us would confess that we’re not quite sure what Lent is all about. We know it’s about doing difficult stuff, like giving up chocolate. We know that Lent is about growing closer to God, but can giving up chocolate really get us closer to God?
To understand Lent, we need to look to the wilderness story which we are told on the first Sunday of Lent every year. Every year on the first Sunday of Lent we are told how Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days to fast and to reflect on the job he was about to do here on Earth. We are told how he was confronted with temptation and how he overcame it. There are three elements to this story. Jesus withdrew from worldly distractions and fasted, he reflected on who and what he was about, and he overcame temptation. The problem is, we all seem to latch onto the first bit of the story about fasting and forget the two more important elements. Jesus reflected on the importance of the ministry he was about to undertake and he refused to be swayed from it. This is the important bit. This is how we need to understand and live our next forty days.
At this time of year we are asked to ‘repent’. We are asked to turn away from things in our lives that are not working well or are wrong. That will be different for all of us, so we need to sit down in a quiet space and work out what we need to do. How we need to change should be something more important than those new-year resolutions we all make and break. Next we need to identify the barriers that stop us making those changes. Withdrawing from worldly comforts might be part of this barrier which is where fasting or giving up TV might come in. Lastly we need to resist the temptation to give up on plans to change ourselves and the world around us, and that’s the hardest bit of all.
As children today’s gospel is presented to us with an accompanying illustration of the devil complete with huge bat like wings a scaly tail and horns. How easy to resist temptation packaged so obviously as a ‘bad choice’. The trouble with temptation is it rarely comes packaged as a ‘bad choice’. Often temptation comes as a fairly harmless choice or even as an attractive or intelligent option. How harmless does it seem to sip half a glass of wine when you’re supposed to be quitting. How harmless does it seem to ‘borrow’ a little cash from the office tea fund … you can always pay it back later.
There’s lot of talk about what is classed as a temptation and what isn’t. In the context of the first Sunday of Lent, a temptation is anything that takes you further way from God. If having an extra cream cake takes you further way from God, then it’s a temptation … if having an extra cream cake has nothing to do with your relationship with God than it’s totally unimportant.
When it comes to temptation, a simple rule of thumb is to ask yourself in each of your daily decisions, ” Will this decision bring me nearer to God or take me further away?” Knowing who you are and what you are trying to achieve in life not only helps you to identify your temptations, but also gives you a reason and strength of character when it comes to resisting. Today is the day we start giving the devil are hard time. Tempted?