Lent: Living Faithfully in the Tension

March 1, 2019  |  Dave Goffeney

By Dave Goffeney

The season of lent is fast approaching and I feel a conviction and desire to do a better job of leading our church community through it. The holy seasons come and go each year, and we have sometimes walked through them well, and at other times struggled to even remember until the very last minute. Perhaps I struggle to remember because I get so caught up in the here and now that I forget what got me where I am, and what future hope I am plodding on toward. Ironically, the very seasons of the church calendar I am so quick to forget, are designed for the clear purpose of helping God’s people remember where we’re from, and where we’re going. There is a very real tension at work in the life of every Christian and the various seasons of the church calendar were given to help us faithfully live it out every year, and every day.

Throughout most of life we experience a great deal of tension. Tension is difficult to understand because it is understood and applied differently across various disciplines; changing from philosophical concept to scientific law. Even looking for a concrete definition proved to be difficult, so I settled for part of a sentence on wikipediathat best describes what I want to communicate. Here is what I mean: “Tension might also be described as the action-reaction pair of forces acting at each end of said elements.”  We experience tensions all over the place in life, but rarely stop to sit in the tension, rather than taking the easier route of choosing one emotion or perspective over another. For example, while raising children, it is healthy to simultaneously grieve and celebrate the growth of your kids. On the one hand, every minute of every day is a season that cannot be experienced ever again. The reality of this could lead one to serious frustration, or even depression, as youth fades away like a dandelion in the wind (Sorry, the Nietzsche quote on the wall of Safford’s auditorium must have worn off on me). I digress. On the other hand, a parent could be so motived by raising up a healthy adult that he or she misses the sweet varied, and necessary experiences that each season brings.  A good place to be is to both grieve and celebrate, sometimes even subconsciously and often simultaneously.

Much of the Christian life is full of tension. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” and “it is only God who works in you” are both biblical truths meant to steer and shape followers of Jesus (Philippians 2:12-16). In isolation, one part of that passage could lead to legalistic effort and inevitable exhaustion, while the other part could lead to laziness that leads to inevitable apathy. But the tension, from our human perspective, is that we are called to both strive with great diligence and rest in the finished work of Jesus. While the freedom one has in resting in the finished work of Christ, and Him working in and through His people is what leads to striving and work, there is still a real life tension that we need to be comfortable with.

Most clearly, in the Christian faith there is the tension of living in a world that has already been claimed and won by and for Jesus Christ, and yet we await the day when He will bring to final fruition what He has already begun to usher in. Theologically, this idea is described as the now and not yet Kingdom of God. Trevin Wax wrote a very helpful article explaining this important paradigm.  Understanding how we faithfully live in light of the person and work and authority of Jesus now, while recognizing that sin is still taking a devastating toll on every aspect of human and universal life has very important implications. As is always the case, theology and information is only as important as it can be traced to some kind of real-life, rubber-meets-the-road, application. So how does the church, which is the locally organized and globally unified people of God, faithfully live today in light of the finished work of Jesus? How does his birth, life, death, and resurrection impact us today, while we also anticipate the glory of His kingdom ushered in upon his promised return? More simply, how do we live in light of what Jesus has already done while anticipating what He has promised to, but not yet, done?  We are approaching a season of the annual, church calendar that is an incredibly helpful tool to help us live faithfully in the tension of where we are and where we are going: The Season of Lent.

The historic church, in both the east and the west, has faithfully and wisely observed the church calendar every year. The calendar forms and protects through intentional participation by the church in consistent seasons—like Advent and Lent that point to the finished and anticipated work of Christ. While there are many traditions and rituals that are unhelpful and rooted in error, the modern Evangelical Church has perhaps strayed too far from these practices of tradition in an effort to to be defined by the gospel alone. It is like steering into a mountain by trying to avoid a cliff. While that might be a little extreme, we do need to recognize that our brothers and sisters in Christ for thousands of years have faithfully lived in the tension we so badly struggle to understand largely by the consistent participation in these various seasons, remembering and anticipating, both individually and communally. The Advent Season helps us remember the first coming of Jesus (Christmas), and anticipate His promised second coming as well.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. This season helps us to be shaped by the glorious & victorious death and resurrection of Jesus, recognizing God’s full provision through the cross and the empty tomb. We can pointedly experience together the desperate need we have for God’s provision, and His proven faithfulness to provide through Christ what we so desperately need, while longing for the day that is still to come when we will be raised again with Christ and glorified through and with Him for all eternity (Colossians 3:3). So I am excited to invite you, as part of Redemption Tucson to participate in the shaping season of lent, observing some form of intentional fasting and prayer for forty days as we build up to a great celebration on Easter Sunday.  

Please read this very helpful, and very thorough article, where Elliot Grudem gives historical background and practical suggestions about walking through this season of Lent: “Why Bother with Lent?” by Elliot Grudem

I look forward to walking alongside you and seeing how the Lord will use this time to shape us individually, as friends, couples, and families, and for all of us as a community of God’s people together.