Happy Valentine's Day!
I have always loved this calendar event; a day set aside to show love to those around you. In grammar school we would decorate boxes to collect paper valentines or perhaps a piece of chocolate from our classmates. I still love paper hearts. With grown children, I shop for little gifts or cookies for family.
As I contemplated what I would do for my guys, plus our girl, this year, I am reminded another calendar event, Ash Wednesday is soon to follow. It denotes the beginning of Lent which was first observed in the fourth century as a time of self-reflection and self-sacrifice during the 40 days before Easter. Actually, it lasts a bit longer than 40, since Sundays are not included in the count but are considered special days of worship. The number of days is symbolic of the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness fasting before beginning His ministry. The observance of Lent is meant to be a time set aside for the Christian to reflect on Christ's crucifixion and prepare for the celebration of His resurrection.
With the occurrence of both these events this month, the thought occurred to me, "How do I observe both? If Lent is a time of preparation to experience the love of Christ and Valentine's is to demonstrate love to others, then...Why don't we celebrate Valentine's Day and Lent the same?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11 NIV
According to the National Retail Federation, only about 55% of Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, but those who do will shell out an average about $145. Now I realize at that dollar amount 40 Valentine's days would be impossible, but...What if...we spent the next 40+ days demonstrating love to those around us?
I grew up in a Protestant church where the season of Lent was not taught, so I never really understood the purpose or practice. All I really knew was it occurred for several weeks before Easter and during Lent people would "give up" things or activities they liked. Last year, a sweet friend shared her experience with Lent. Like me, she had not grown up practicing Lent, but had been led to set aside a special time with the LORD before Easter. Our discussion prompted me to give consideration to my own participation. Not really knowing what or how to go about my first observance, I decided to devote myself to a Bible study each evening instead of watching television, which was my habit. My intention was to draw nearer to God's heart in preparation for Passover and Easter. My small sacrifice of time became a sweet experience of blessing.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare Your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:15-17 NIV
For those of you willing to participate for the first time, or seasoned veterans evaluating this year's participation, I am challenging you to give careful consideration to your Lenten sacrifice. Ask yourself if your offering will move you closer to your Savior, grow your relationship or understanding of His perfect love for you or demonstrate His love to a lost world. While fasting may be the most common practice associated with Lenten sacrifice, gift giving is the common practice for Valentine's day. Here is a section from the Prophet Isaiah to the people about what the LORD said about their fasting...
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:3-10 NIV
With this in mind, let's consider my earlier question: "What if Valentines Day lasted for 40+ days?" I believe it to be the perfect way to celebrate our Savior's perfect love for us which He demonstrated by His crucifixion during Passover and His resurrection Easter morning while demonstrating love for others.
Here are a few ways you might consider spending the next few weeks:
What if you fasted from secular music and chose to listen to Christian music exclusively? KLOVE is a personal favorite with a wide range of worship music. This fasting choice causes your fasting to become worship, and you may find this small change redirects your outlook and encourages you in other ways. Also, a financial gift allows the radio station to continue broadcasting to a world in need of Christ's salvation.
Perhaps you would like to join me in fasting from evening television. The time you would normally spend watching the news, a sitcom or drama series can be spent in several ways building your relationship, communication and understanding your Creator, Savior and Counselor. Here are a few suggestions:
Rest and reflection. Shelly Miller has several great books about experiencing God's gift of rest. She even has one, A Sabbath Journey for Lent, is available free from her website. Another suggestion is Pauses for Lent by Trevor Hudson.
Prayer and meditation. Begin a prayer journal, write a love letter a day to the One who loves you most. Here is your Father's Love Letter to you. While you're it, you might commit to writing a short note of encouragement to someone you know is struggling or thanking someone who has made a positive impact on your life. When was the last time you sent Valentine's Day cards?
Bible Study and learning. Have you ever thought of learning Hebrew? Your Bible was written in Hebrew and sometimes meanings and emotions are lost in translation. By exploring the Hebrew language, you may better understand the depth of your Father's love for you. One suggestion would be Chaim Bentorah. He is a scholar who writes lessons discussing Biblical verses from a Hebrew interpretation.
My prayer is that this year, your observance of Lent is more than "giving up" something that you probably don't need and can live without. I pray that your experience will forever change your heart and your understanding of your Abba Father God so that the 40+ days of Valentines turns into an amazing 40 years (or more) of demonstrating Christ's love for the world. For when we comprehend how much our Savior loves us, it will be impossible for us to contain that love and it will overflow to those around us. Perhaps, we will take that love a step further and decide to volunteer or teach what we have learned while pursuing the heart of our Adonai these 40 days.
Holy Father God, You so loved this world that You gave, not because we were so lovable, but sinful. You have led me with cords of kindness, with ties of love. You have lifted me to Your cheek, and bent down to feed me (Hosea 11:4). Please Lord help me to do likewise to those who are placed in my path. I pray You will instruct and teach me in the way I should go. Counsel me with Your loving eye (Psalm 32:8). Draw me close as I seek Your heart. Amen
NOTE: For those of you who are familiar with Lent, I encourage you to share your experiences by emailing us at Circle2plus@gmail.com. The family of God learns from other members, helping each other grow in our knowledge, and encouraging each other on our journey in this world. Personally, I probably would not have participated in a Lenten sacrifice if my Christian sister had not shared her testimony. If you have never personally participated in Lenten activities, let me encourage you to jump in with us. Our God is faithful and He give much more than you could ever think of sacrificing.