Lent Reflections 2024: Lent 4 – Habits of Looking at Jesus

Lent Reflections 2024: Lent 4 – Habits of Looking at Jesus

Richard Brand, Archdeacon of Winchester, reflects on Lenten disciplines, and how we can, over time, get into good habits. He invites us to consider our habits of prayer, Bible reading, and other ways of looking at Jesus, this Lenten period…

Text below:

I remember my late mother in law being quite put out when I said you could have Sundays off in Lent. I pointed out that there were still 40 days without Sundays, so you can have Sundays off from your Lenten discipline and still keep a full Lent. Sundays after all are a celebration of the resurrection. 

For sixty plus years she had kept her Lenten disciplines and now felt she had missed a trick or somehow been duped!

Perhaps claiming Sundays as resurrection days is a bit like a Roman Catholic finding a saint’s day for every day which means they are feast days and therefore days of exception! Though I can hear my mother’s voice saying “You’re only cheating yourself.”

Mothering Sunday though, does seem an exception. Surely this Sunday we can put on hold things that we may have given up for Lent, so that we can fully celebrate Mothering Sunday? Well, it’s down to you, it’s not for us to police one another’s disciplines. But perhaps the bigger issue is around the positives we seek from Lent, from our disciplines, not what we are trying to avoid or get away with.

For many months now the book ‘Atomic Habits’ has been in the top ten non-fiction best seller list. As the title suggests, the book’s proposition is that when we want to make a real difference to our lives, the most effective approach is often not, as we might think, to try to change something major, but in fact to change small habits, especially effective when we tie the new habit into something already established.

For example, a few years ago I bust my Achilles – it took seemingly forever to knit back and repair. As part of the physio treatment I needed to do particular daily stretches. I ended up finding the best way to ensure I did these was to do them whilst I was brushing my teeth. So habitual has it become that – much to my wife’s amusement – I still do them, without thinking about it.

Lent is a wonderful annual gift to establish a habit to grow our self-discipline and more so, to establish behaviours which will grow our relationship with God.

However, there’s another aspect of Lent, with which I suggest much of society and some of the church struggles; and this is to do with not just purposefully seeking the good, but focusing on dealing with sin, and strengthening the habits which help overcome our sin.

Sin is often the skewed self-love and self-concern which leaves us less than the people we can be. It can be those deliberate words and actions, or unthinking cruelty or lack of care which wound those we love. Perhaps more often it is our lack of kindness, lack of compassion and lack of imagination which prevent us from acting and behaving in ways that are more loving and more faithful to being made in the image of God.

Our need, with which Lent can help us, is to repent and to change those unthinking bad habits into unthinking good ones.

Perhaps part of the challenge is to better understand what true repentance means. We often talk about ‘turning away’ from sin, turning our lives around; but the wonderful preacher Michael Mayne expresses this, I think, in a better way. He said:

In the New Testament the word ‘repent’ doesn’t mean taking some action which is negative and backward-looking, wringing your hands and indulging in an agony of guilt. On the contrary, repentance means looking at Jesus. It describes a shift in your understanding, a sudden recognition of an extraordinary truth: the truth of God’s unconditional love for you. Repentance [he goes on to say] is my instinctive response to the discovery that I am loved by God in a way past my imagining. And repentance then becomes the regular recognition of how little we still understand what that truth means and how little we act upon it; of how unconverted we remain.

This is the Bible message, this is the gospel message; not a proclamation of sinfulness and failure but a declaration that if we can look at Jesus Christ, we will find in him the one who gazes upon us with love, who sees into our hearts and loves us, and challenges all within us that remains unconverted.

So, if you still have space for Lenten discipline and if what you’re doing doesn’t already do this; find and establish those habits that help you to ‘look at Jesus’. Habits of prayer, Bible reading, silence, nature, other people… whatever it might be, but habits that – in a good way become unthinking –  helping you look at Jesus.