Lent and tests of spiritual endurance
Last weekend we had a few days away and stayed with Stephi in Leeds. The highlight was being able to see Manchester City playing Leicester.
I also watched a television program that I had never seen before called “Who Dares Wins” in which a number of volunteers endured a series of physical and psychological challenges to see if they could pass the test and join the SAS.
To say the least it involved high levels of endurance and stamina both mentally and physically.
Whilst watching on a comfortable arm chair I was thinking why anyone would put themselves through this.
Yet putting yourself through tests of spiritual endurance has always been part of Christian tradition.
There are a number of people in the church who fast and as we enter into Lent it is quite possible that we have decided to give something up, whether that is chocolate, or the occasional glass of wine or beer.
In the early church some of the Anglo Saxon saints put themselves through severe tests of endurance that would be worthy of “Who Dares Wins.”
St Cuthbert is a good example, who was a 7th Century Saint mentioned by the Venerable Bede.
He is described as walking into a billowing sea and spending hours in pray.
As he leaves the water Bede describes how two otters ran up to him and breathed on his feet to warm him up.
Once he finished this vigil he heads straight away to the church to join the others in prayer.
This type of asceticism was endured to bring the believer closer to God and life was considered to be a spiritual battle.
In the reading on Ash Wednesday St Paul describes how as “servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger.”
There is also the example of Jesus who went out into the wilderness and was hungry and thirsty, battling against temptations. Likewise his ministry will be defined from moving from place to place and eventually in Jerusalem being crucified. His calling to the first disciples was to be aware that being a follower involved “taking up your cross,” a stark and unsettling image.
I guess that there is recognition that most things that are worthwhile require effort and a certain amount of dedication. If you are training for a race, it will require certain sacrifices. There is the discipline of training on a cold and wet day and not eating certain things. If you have an exam then you will need to stay in and study. If we want to be healthy then the general advice is look at what you eat, don’t smoke, try and exercise a bit and be careful with what you your consumption of alcohol. All these things are taken for granted and most newspapers and magazines will have many pages on what you can and can’t eat or drink.
The same can apply to the spiritual life.
When I was confirmed I was given a Book that contained advice and suggestions on prayer and the importance of having a Rule of Life. There was a recognition that is hard work. It requires discipline and if you only prayed when you felt like it then it wouldn’t necessarily happen very often. There are numerous books written by men and woman describing prayer and the very fact that so much has been written suggests that whilst important it can be neglected.
I would not recommend this Lent jumping into the canal for a prayer vigil but if we put so much importance on other things such as staying healthy and keeping fit, it is worth over Lent thinking about prayer and spirituality.
A good place to start is with certain questions: what are the most important things in my life and how much time do I give to them? How important is church and being part of a Christian community? When I hear the Bible readings in church are there things that come to mind that make me want to live in a different way? Does God call other people to various things or does God possibly call me?
The aim of this is not to feel guilty, but to give space to something from a Christian perspective is central to faith.
We are as the body of Christ in this place, God’s people, called into relationship with Him and to live lives shaped by the Christ like virtues of faith, hope and love.
When you take your car in for a MOT you have to pay £40.00 and then what needs to be done to keep it going for another year.
A spiritual MOT is free but the benefits can help prepare you for eternity.
Lent is with us and let’s pray we can respond to the opportunities that it gives us.