Lent: an opportunity to return to stillness of body, mind and spirit

Mary Copping, 17 March 2019

Philippians 3: 17–4: 1; Luke 13: 31–35

Jesus was determined to do God’s work. In our gospel reading we see him focused on the time ahead and on what lies in front of him. Earlier in Luke we’re told ‘Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’. And when telling the disciples about his suffering to come and that he must be killed, and Peter words were ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you’, Jesus replied ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Jesus was focused on his mission, whatever the pain and the cost, and wouldn’t listen to anyone who might try to lead him off the path.

In our gospel reading we heard the Pharisees actually warning Jesus about Herod wanting to kill him. We don’t know why they warned him, as they were the ones who were out to kill him themselves. But whatever reason they had, Jesus was not going to be swayed. He referred to Herod as the fox, and this might have been alluding to what he’d done in the past, slaughtering the Innocents – which we hear of in the nativity narrative, when he ordered the slaughter of all young male children – and also, tragically and so sadly for Jesus, the beheading of his cousin John the Baptist.

But whatever threats Jesus had, he refused to flee, refused to be drawn off course by any distractions or threats. He continued to do his work, continued to focus on what God wanted him to do, and on what was to come for him in Jerusalem.

This time of Lent is an opportunity for us to refocus ourselves – our hearts, our souls, our spirits – on God through Jesus, and to prepare to receive him afresh, to recognise once again what Jesus has done for us on the cross, bringing us back to relationship with God through all that he suffered. Most of us live busy lives, with lots of action, lots of words, lots of busy thoughts. Lent is an opportunity to return to stillness of body, mind and spirit, to focus afresh on God and on what he means to us.

Jesus knew he had to spend time with his heavenly Father so that he could remain focused on him and the work he wanted him to do. Jesus came to do the will of his Father, and through much time in prayer he was in communion with him. At the beginning of his ministry, as we remember afresh in Lent, he went in to the wilderness, where he refused all the temptations of Satan to misuse his power and his ministry, and strengthened himself in his resolve to do God’s work. Before Jesus chose his disciples, he spent all night in prayer. We’re told that many times throughout his ministry he went to a quiet place to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed and sweated drops of blood, and was so disappointed that his disciples could not pray with him. If Jesus, the saviour of the world, needed to pray, to spend that time with his heavenly Father, focusing on him, so must we. Jesus set the pattern of prayer, of being steeped in that place of quiet with God.

If Jesus, the saviour of the world, needed to pray, so must we.

Lent is a time of Bible study, prayer and fasting, a time of setting aside our agendas and focusing on God’s agenda for us.

In the gospel of Luke we have the familiar story of Mary and Martha, with poor Martha having to do all the work whilst Mary focused on Jesus – how was everyone going to be fed if they were just going to sit listening to Jesus? And yet Jesus said that Mary’s was the better way: ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’. Why? I think because Mary was looking to Jesus first, spending time with him first, before going to her work.

For us, we can rush into the day, responding to whatever comes, doing whatever is needed at the time. Yet if we spend time in prayer, quietening our souls in the morning, focusing on God, then we can come from a more peaceful place, perhaps be a more peaceful presence in the world, and be more aware of what it is God wants us to do and what is for others to do? Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant reformation, is famously quoted as saying, ‘I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer’. Well, God is not asking us to spend three hours in prayer, but perhaps he is wanting to draw us into a deeper relationship with him through times of prayer.

Jesus was sad about Jerusalem, sad that the Jews did not recognise him and accept him. And it’s so sad today that many do not recognise him or acknowledge him or know his love. And yet, as we spend time with Jesus and follow him, love others with his love and answer those who ask about the hope that we have, then we are helping him to be known in the world; we are being his ambassadors.

Recently I went to a conference on spirituality and the prophetic. And what I heard from the speaker throughout the day was the call for all of us to spend more time with God, more time in prayer, listening to him. He spoke about the need to centre on God in prayer so that our lives and work can be centred on him.

Yet there is so much suffering in the world, so much that we cannot do anything about and grieve for, as Jesus grieved for Jerusalem. The terrible attack on the two mosques in New Zealand with many lives lost, the plight of so many refugees and so many other terrible things that we see on the news – what can we do about them? We realise that most of us cannot do anything in word or action, but we can pray, and then try to give it into God’s hands, acknowledging that we do care about these things but are helpless. We pray for God’s mercy, compassion and help in all those situations. God doesn’t want us to be burdened by the horrors of the world, especially with those things we can do nothing about, but he wants us to show our care and concern in prayer.

In personal situations where we again may feel helpless, we can pray for God’s help and mercy, or for God to give us the grace and strength to go through the darkness. Our focus, on God through Jesus, can and does help in all situations. Even if the situations are not changed we are often given the strength to get through them.

This Lent time, let us focus again on God’s love for us and for the world – through prayer, through fellowship with others here in our church community and on the Lent courses, and through reading God’s word and asking him to speak to us through it.

I will end with some words of an old hymn, simple yet profound. Let us pray:

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Saviour,
and life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.