I greet you on this first Sunday of Lent with the statement from Ephesians 5:14:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
Wake up! Are you awake yet? Funny, the first Sunday of Lent this year happens to correspond with daylight savings time.
The journey of lent is a journey of awakening. We are often lulled to sleep, numbed by our habits and behaviors: Some unhealthy, but most, not necessarily “wrong.” They simply fill up space that the Spirit could be inhabiting within our lives. Lent is a time associated with fasting, almsgiving, repentance, and prayer. It is a time for giving things up, so that we can “give to” those in need. Some struggle with seeing Lent as a morose season, but one piece of liturgy identifies it as a “joyful season.”
“Bread and Wine,” a daily devotional that I read each year at Lent, says that Lent is a season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. It says in the introduction:
“Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ.”
This a season when we are called to embrace the statement made by the apostle John: “Christ must increase, and I must decrease.”
Let’s set Lent in context of the Liturgical calendar:
We started our journey with Advent, four weeks before Christmas. The season of Advent marked our journey to the manger. After Christmas, we embarked on the season of epiphany, which takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration. From the transfiguration, we will take the journey of Lent to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross, where we are called to die with Christ.
LUKE 9:28–36 (NASB) says:
Some eight days after these sayings, He (Jesus) took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: One for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; Listen to Him!”. And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.
Let’s look deeper at this picture of the mount of Transfiguration: This is a point where the kingdom of God visibly and powerfully touches earth. Moses represents the Law. Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is the gospel in which the law and the prophets are fulfilled and propelled into eternity. The apostles are the church, representing us. JD Walt says this in the 2019 Seedbed Devotional, Listen to Him: “Jesus miraculously unites not only divinity and humanity, but heaven and earth and even the past and future. Everything, literally everything, comes together and transfigures in Him.”
One of my favorite parts of this passage is that the disciples fall asleep. And Peter awakes and blurts out a pretty absurd statement: “It’s so good that we are here, because we can build something with which to contain this glory!” Peter simply could not comprehend that the glory he was witnessing could not be contained in earthly vessels.
This slumber-attack makes Peter and the disciples so endearing to me, because I get it. Sometimes, I just can’t stay awake. I happened this week in Orlando. Several of us went to a conference, and I promise I almost fell out of my chair a few times on the first day. So embarrassing! The interesting thing is that this slumber strikes the disciples collectively in these peak spiritual and emotional moments with Jesus: The mount of transfiguration and in Gethsemane. You remember Gethsemane? Those poor disciples fell asleep how many times while Jesus was in the height of His passion and suffering? In Mark’s account of Gethsemane, we see that they fell asleep three times. Interesting, in Luke’s account, he states that they fell asleep because of the weight of sorrow. It almost seems like sleeping was their bodies way of saying that they could not handle the weight of glory of these encounters. As if it was too much for them to bear. These encounters with the sleeping disciples put “Awake, O Sleeper” in a whole new light for me.
God identifies Christ as His Son, His chosen one, and He follows this “naming” of Jesus with a single commandment: LISTEN TO HIM.
Why is this commandment so important?
JD Walt, founder of Seedbed and author of our Lenten study Listen To Him states:
“However we identify Christ in our life determines the depths to which we will listen to him.”
Are we afraid to actually hear the voice of God?
There were many who heard Jesus’ words, to whom Jesus spoke directly, but they refused to have ears to hear. How different are we, the church, in 2019?
Consider the red letters of the Gospels, the words that Jesus spoke directly to His followers on earth, and now, directly to us. I read this week that Jesus spoke 36,450 words that are recorded in the gospels. If we account for the duplicated words, we narrow it down to about 20,000 words. That’s a lot of direct communication from God incarnate that we have recorded and readily available to all of us.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.”
As I have sought and prayed about how to communicate what it means to hear God’s voice, how we can best listen to God, the Spirit has brought me back to the words of Christ.
Do you struggle to know how to hear and identify God’s voice?
Consider only the words of Jesus that we have recorded in our bibles, in the gospels. We have those words readily available as we seek to hear and discern the voice of God. We have them in paper form, digital form, audio form, on our phones and tablets, pretty much any form we can fathom in our modern world.
Do we want to hear God’s voice? How often do we study the undeniable words of Christ—the red-letter words?
If we know Christ, God is continually speaking to us, because the Holy Spirit dwells within Christ-followers. God is speaking to our individual hearts constantly, in various locations. And it is exciting. I absolutely love hearing the voice of God. These past six months have become a season for me to come to know the character, voice, and heart of God. I am growing more and more familiar with God’s voice simply because I am spending more time in fellowship with the Almighty.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NASB)
WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST. His mind, the source of His words, dwells within us. Amazing.
But in the absence of clear words, if we struggle to discern God’s voice, Christ has given us an arsenal of truth from which to draw: The red-letter words of the gospels: The actual words that God incarnate spoke while walking this earth.
When I get on my knees in my prayer closet and ask, “how can I hear God?”, God has challenged me to ask, “How can I put on the mind of Christ?” If I desire to hear God’s voice and gain God’s direction, I must first seek the mind of Christ.
During this season of making space for God, let’s ask ourselves:
- Why do I want to hear God?
- What do I desire to gain by listening to His voice?
If our primary goal is not to fall deeper in love with God, to know God more intimately, to gain continual fellowship with the Spirit, and transformation to the character of Christ, we need to go back to the drawing board. Our motives have gotten muddied. Hearing God’s voice is not simply a means to an end. It is not enough to desire to hear God’s voice in order to simply understand how to navigate our next step in life. We need to hunger for relationship with the almighty God.
How many times did Christ speak actual audible words to individuals on this earth, but they did not understand what Jesus meant? Even the disciples, those closest to Christ, several times, failed to understand Christ’s words.
Christ spoke to individuals, but often, they did not understand. Sometimes, they chose not to understand. God speaks to us, and there are times when we choose to close our ears. Christ called the Pharisees an “unbelieving generation,” and I deeply suspect that He would be inclined to call many of us the same today.
Sometimes I say to God, “Speak to me,” and God faithfully speaks, but I don’t like what He has to say. So I step out of my prayer time, and stubbornly insist that I did not hear from God, simply because I don’t like what He said. God came to earth, spoke through His son, performed overwhelming signs and wonders through Jesus, and the people were offended. They did not like what Jesus had to say. So they shut him up and crucified Him. Am I offended by Christ?
How are we doing with the red-letter words of Christ? Are we willing to start there: To get to know the heart and character of God, in human flesh, uttering human words?
Shall we take inventory of our obedience to the words of Christ recorded in scripture? Let’s just start there. It’s pretty simple. God has so much more for us, but if we are unwilling to hear the words of Christ, are we willing to hear God’s words whispered to our Spirits? Do we even have the space for them?
Lent is a time when God whispers to our hearts, “Make room for me.”
In His lovingkindness, in His graciousness, in His generosity, He gives us more than simply the words found in the Holy Bible. Sometimes, the whispers of the Holy Spirit stop us in our tracks. Sometimes it is found in the stillness of listening, reading the scripture, or prayer.
But my challenge today is simple: start with the red-letter words: The words that Jesus spoke. Read them OUT LOUD. Let them not only touch your eyes, but touch your ears. The Bible was written to be heard, not simply read.
Take this season of Lent. We are called to fast in order to make space to “pick up” more of God. As God convicts you to fast from a certain thing, pick up the words of Christ, the red-letter words. Feast on them.
Lent isn’t primarily about what we lose in our fasting. Lent is about what we gain when we make room.
Eugene Peterson, in his book, “Eat this Book” stated that the word “meditate” actually means “to chew.” Chew on the words of Jesus. Savor them. Sit with them.
Allow God to create in you the character of Christ as you chew on the red-letter words. You have time. I have time. Take one phrase. One passage a day of Christ’s words to you.
Let’s see what God does in our hearts as we allow Him to reveal the truth of what is already there, in red, right in front of our eyes. Get to know Jesus and you will get to know God.
Jesus said in John 14:7:
“If you have known me, you would have known the Father also.”
So let’s take this Lent to get to know Jesus by opening our eyes and ears to His words.
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!