Missions, Outreach, Priority

Lent and missions

Lent and missions

What is Lent and what is its significance? Beginning on Ash Wednesday in the tradition of the Christian Liturgical Calendar, Lent is a season of penitential reflection, preparing one for Good Friday, before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, or abstaining from something which might prevent us from focusing on God. Instead of engaging in these activities, time is spent in communion with God instead, through prayer.

Many Christians also take up a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God. Lent is the season to observe and commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God, our Saviour and Redeemer.

Lent culminates in Passion or Holy Week observances, and a celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning.

The first Lenten preparation

The true meaning of Lent, however, is not in the rituals alone nor the ‘sacrifices’ that we make when we fast.

In Mark 8–10, we read about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the foretelling of his suffering and death. This is the first Lenten preparation – Jesus preparing his disciples for his first Easter. What dominates this section are:

1) Utter loyalty to Jesus – If we want to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34-35). To take up the cross means to let go of our autonomy where we assume the right to live as we please.1

2) Being a servant of all (Mark 9:35) – It is about receiving Jesus as if we were a little child. It is a recognition that we have nothing to offer God and utterly dependent on him and him alone.

Christian freedom is the freedom to let go of our own agenda for the sake of bringing life to others. What does this mean for Lent? What does God desire from us? Steadfast love (חֶסֶד – ḥesed) and not sacrifice! The Septuagint often translates חֶסֶד (ḥesed) as “mercy”. We, as God’s people, should be like him – characterised by steadfast love and mercy.

The meaning and significance of Lent

During Lent, instead of fasting from our favourite foods, shall we instead fast from wanting ourselves to take centrestage? Shall we think about how we can consider the needs of others above our own?

But this should be done all the time, instead of only during the 40 days of Lent, for isn’t this the mark of the Christian life? Let us be careful not to turn Lent into a mere ritual or a liturgical observance for a season of practising token self-denial. We, as eschatological people of God, live now in the immediate presence of the end times – the ἔσχατον (éskhaton)—every day through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Every day we live under the cross, every day we live the resurrection life. The period of Lent is useful in reminding us to focus on what is important.  However, a little note of caution here—there might be a little danger in turning to calendars to define how we conduct ourselves—that we lose sight of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17), where every day we try to lay down our life for my brother or my sister. Instead of letting calendars lead the way, why don’t we redefine the meaning of time in the coming of God’s present kingdom? After all, God planted eternity in our hearts (Ec 3:11) thus we have hope.

Making Jesus known

Renowned evangelist, theologian and apologist Dr Michael Green once said that the Church (community of believers) is “a circle of chairs facing outwards”. Christians are given our Great Commission to make disciples (Mt 28:19-20), to have a ministry of reconciliation and to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5: 18-21)! We are to proclaim Christ and to present everyone mature in Christ energetically (Col 1:28-29). This, in a nutshell, is the mission of the church.

Kevin De Young notes: “Every Christian—if we are going to be obedient to the Great Commission—must be involved in missions, but not every Christian is a missionary. While it is certainly true that we should all be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have (1Pet 3:15), and we should all adorn the gospel with our good works (Titus 2:1), and we should all do our part to make Christ known (1 Thess 1:8; 2 Thess 3:1), we should reserve the term “missionary” for those who are intentionally sent out from one place to another. Strictly speaking, the church is not sent out, but sends out workers from her midst. Our fundamental identity as church (ekklesia) is not as those who are sent into the world with a mission, but as those who are called out from darkness into his marvellous light (1 Pet 2:9).”2

Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord.3 And the goal of mission work is to win new converts, establish these young disciples in the faith, and incorporate them into a local church.4 (I prefer the term “Christian community”).

Thus, whether we are a missionary or a member of the church, our mission is to confess Jesus as Lord and to make him known.

LENT and MISSIONS are thus two sides of the same coin—to know Jesus and to make him known!

1 Rick Watts, “The ‘True’ Meaning of Lent”, Regent Chapel talk 4501H

2 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-mission-of-the-church

3 Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 17.

4 P. T. O’Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995, 43).

Prof Dennis Lee serves as Area Director in Methodist Missions Society (MMS). He is a Visiting Professor with Copenhagen Business School (CBS), a Fellow with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and an alumnus of Regent College. He worships at Kum Yan Methodist Church.