God’s prophecy through Jeremiah offers us an image rich contrast between those who trust in their own strength and human ability and those who rely on God. Those who trust in themselves and seek the approval and companionship of other people are shriveled and fruitless desert shrubs with hearts far from God. In stark contrast, those who place their trust in God and seek His companionship and approval flourish by drawing water from deep roots even in the driest seasons.
Jeremiah’s prophecy also reveals a truth about ourselves that we would rather avoid. We are masters at self-deception! We will call ourselves flourishing even as the dry winds wither our leaves. Our hearts will seek to call a single withered raisin a bountiful harvest. Indeed, our hearts deceive us and hide the desperate sickness that hides within us. Yet we are not without hope. God promises to search our hearts and test our thoughts revealing, healing, restoring, and comforting the innermost parts of our being.
As a church, we receive that promise of searching and testing during Lent and celebrate the fulfillment of the promise of restoration, healing and transformation in the Resurrection of Christ at Easter. Today is the third Sunday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6th. This is the traditional Sunday in the church year to begin the preparation for a Holy Lent. For some of us, the tradition of Lent is new or uncertain. These weeks of prayerful preparation can help us to fully experience this season. In the next two weeks, we will explore some options for Lenten devotions, but this week we will start by examining ourselves.
As we begin preparing for Lent, we can start with Jeremiah’s prophecy as a self-examination. Where am I trusting in myself and my own strength instead of turning to God? What parts of my life feel withered and dry? In what ways do I deceive myself? What in me is desperately sick and in need of healing? How do I try to hide from God? These are the things we hope to place before God in our Lenten devotions.
We also search for those ways that God is at work in us. In what ways have I learned to trust in the steadfast love of God and seek my identity, security, and strength in Him? What parts of my life are truly flourishing, drawing water from the deep wells of God’s Love even in the bleakest circumstances? How do I hear Truth from God? In what ways has God healed me? In what ways do I present myself before God and allow Him to search and to heal the hidden parts of my soul? We give thanks for these blessings and use them to guide us into the Lenten devotions that strengthen us.
I invite you to begin examining your schedule, your choices, your feelings, your joys, your fears and your doubts. Gently become aware of your resistance to the work of God and your own self-deception and blindness. Begin asking God to prepare you for a Holy Lent.