Holiness is not a very popular word. For many, it’s synonymous with sanctimonious, which is the unhelpful practice of making some kind of hypocritical show of religious piety. But that’s not what the Bible means when it talks of being holy. And it’s not what I meant, when I urged our church yesterday – on Ash Wednesday – to practice ‘a holy Lent.’ So what does it mean to be holy? And why is Lent all about holiness?
Lent is the 40 day season, starting yesterday and running up to Easter. Traditionally, it’s a season when the church encourages followers of Jesus to look deep inside of themselves and take stock. Through prayer, fasting, and bible study, we’re urged to practice self-examination. To see our strengths and bless them. To see our weaknesses and work on them. To see our sins and repent of them.
In essence, we’re seeking to do what God says on a number of occasions in the Bible: ‘be holy, for I am holy’ (eg. 1 Peter 1:15).
So being holy is about being godly. Being God-like.
Why would we want that?
One reason is because God the Father is utterly good. And as his children, we want to be like him. This was the desire of William Wilberforce, the man who felt called by God to end slavery, and after much opposition achieved it. Wilberforce’s aim in life was ‘to make goodness fashionable.’
Another is that God the Son – Jesus Christ – is totally forgiving. And as his followers, we want to be like him. Twentieth century church leader John Stott, puts it like this: ‘Experience is good, but holiness is better. For holiness is Christ-likeness, and Christ-likeness is God’s eternal purpose for his children.’
Another is that God the Spirit is wonderfully empowering. As Spirit-filled people, we want to be like him. That’s why Bill Johnson, leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California, says that ‘Holiness is more powerful than sin.’
‘Be holy for I am holy’ is the basic call of God in Lent. It’s a call to grow in holiness. To have a holy Lent.
If you want to do this, here are 3 things you could do:
1) Do something symbolic
Some people did this yesterday (on Ash Wednesday) by getting ashed. They received on their foreheads a sign of the cross, made from ashes. It was a sign of wanting to repent. To change. To be holy. It was a sign of sackcloth and ashes, saying: ‘God, I’m sorry. Change me. Make me holy, like you.’ If you didn’t get ashed, you still could. Get some ash or some dirt and rub it on your forehead. Alternatively you could something else physical and tangible to show yourself and God that you’re going to take seriously this season of Lent. For example, you could leave a pot full of ashes on the kitchen table, so you see it every day. You could place a cross somewhere strategic – in your car, on the fridge, on your desk, round your neck. There’s lots you could do.
2) Do something daily
Yesterday I urged our church to make time every day in Lent to pray and read the bible. This is a great thing to do not just in Lent, but every day. But in Lent, be especially intentional about it. You might want to take a book of the bible, perhaps one of the gospels, or perhaps an Old Testament book like Nehemiah – and slowly read through it as a focus for Lent. What’s important is to find some time, each day to come before God and welcome his presence and his holy work in our hearts.
3) Do something weekly
I recommend fasting. As part of your weekly rhythm in Lent, why not take one day each week, as a day of fasting? You could fast all meals that day. Or perhaps two. Or maybe just one. Most of us could do one. Use that time to pray and allow the physical hunger that builds to cause you to hunger for God. You will surprised at the benefits this will release in you, and the impact it will have on your prayers.
May you have a very helpful and holy Lent.