How not to Ruin a Penitential Season PDF Print E-mail
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Thursday, 26 November 2009 08:41

Last year I preached a message on “penitential seasons”—you can look at the outline for that message here.

But despite those registered concerns, I certainly don’t believe that to observe a penitential season is malum in se, that is, bad in and of itself. So if you belong to a tradition that observes Advent and Lent as penitential seasons, here are three quick tips that should help make that time spiritually more productive and fruitful.

First, Jesus assumes that such times can be spiritually healthy, but He requires His followers to keep it a secret that they are observing such a time. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:16-18). A fast is a time for reflection, personal discipline, and confession, and if you are doing this during a penitential season, Jesus requires that you take reasonable measures to hide what you are doing from others. If you need to have others know about it so that it will do your soul good, it isn’t doing your soul any good.

Second, this creates an opportunity to give up substantially more for the sake of that personal discipline. You don’t have to keep the discipline and sacrifices minor. The ancients tended to be more serious than we are about things like fasting. We tend to give up far less (chocolate, Internet privileges) and we hide it far less. A good use of a penitential season would be to give up more and hide it more. Instead of all your friends knowing that you had given up Facebook, you would be in a position where none of your friends knew that you had given up food entirely.

And third, true penitence should take the time to confess and forsake sin, and the time should not be wasted through indulgence in nebulous angst about possible sinfulness that is always carefully undefined. If you were to devote thirty days to remodel a room in your house, or to add on to your house, when that time was over, you would want a new room that you could actually move into. Penitential seasons can be put to a genuinely good use if they are a time when serious, once-for-all mortification of particular sins occurs—if real sins and real bad habits are uprooted from your life. Pray, practice and pursue Colossian 3:5 and 3:8. What pastor could possibly be against that? The real problems come in when sin is not really dealt with, and yet the times of showboating penitence don’t even slow down, and the penitent daily comes to resemble more closely the policemen in Penzance. “Yes, but you don’t go!”

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Last Updated on Thursday, 26 November 2009 08:53