I consider myself a Christ follower and while my family and I belong to a specific church body, our church is considered nondenominational. As a result, our church is made up of people from many different backgrounds – those who were raised Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or came from no religious background and found a relationship with Christ in their adult life.
One of the blessings that comes from us being “eclectic” is that our church celebrates and embraces many different traditions, with members being invited to join in or not, depending upon their comfort level. Our pastor likes to say, “We keep the majors the majors (that in order to experience eternal life with God in Heaven we must admit that we’re sinners and cannot save ourselves, believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and that accept that He is the only way to bridge that gap between God and us) and the minors, the minors.”
As a result, we’ve celebrated Advent for the past four years. I’d never really known much about Advent (celebrated at Christmas time but truly embracing the message of Easter too) until our pastor introduced it and invited the church as a whole to join the party. I’m so glad we did.
While our church doesn’t celebrate Lent, friends of mine do and I was curious to learn more about it. I didn’t know whether or not God was inviting me to participate or sit on the sidelines. At first, I thought God was telling me to have a free pass this year. Due to other circumstances in my life that God was teaching me through the sacrifice of fasting, I didn’t feel compelled to fast any food but Lent isn’t about just giving up food. God reminded me of a conversation we’d been having off and on since last fall, one He got very specific about in January. He gave me a choice: I could choose one of two paths – a life of complaining or a life of joy. It wasn’t a coincidence that the word God gave me for 2017 was JOY. Not “fun” as I originally thought, but JOY.
So, when my friend casually mentioned what she was giving up for Lent and part of her sacrifice was intangible, God nudged me and said, “While I’m not asking you for your food this time, remember that choice I gave you? Forty days is a great way to form a habit in your life…”
I chose to join the party and give up complaining. I find for myself when I make a choice to do something, if I don’t specifically give it to God, I seem to always fail. However, while I’m still not perfect, making a specific commitment to God gives me that extra will power I need. I guess I’m used to sabotaging myself but to disappoint God or directly disobey Him when I have made a commitment, a promise to Him – that gives me that extra oomph I need at times.
So this is the first Lent season I can remember participating in and I’m choosing not to complain. However, it’s really more than that. I’m choosing to see JOY in life. Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, I’m choosing to look at life through a Heavenly focus and trusting that what I’m faced with is there for a purpose. The bill that I supposedly took care of last month but never did get adjusted? While I don’t know the purpose behind the inconvenience, I’m willing to see it for what it is – an inconvenience. Maybe God has a blessing waiting for us and that bill is the extra incentive I need to look into alternatives that could be the blessing waiting to happen.
That’s just one example where I could’ve chosen to complain, but instead choose to see JOY in the situation. We are only one week into the Lent season, but I’m choosing to believe that God will use this time to slowly change any complaining behavior I have into a JOYful spirit that will bless those around me.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)
© Cheri Swalwell 2017