I did not grow up in a church that observed Ash Wednesday or put a large emphasis on Lent. However, in the past few years it has been a meaningful time for me to focus more intensely on the Lord Jesus' sacrifice for my sins and it has made the celebration of Easter sweeter as a result.
This year, I have felt led to spend time in prayer being intentionally thankful for the sufferings in my life and in the lives of those that I love. It does not come naturally, but by God's grace He has been showing me the beauty found in sufferings as His child -- These are a few of the ways that are being revealed to me:
1) We are able to identify with Him in what He suffered for us.
2) The realization of #1 causes us to grow deeply in our love for Jesus.
3) They keep us dependent upon Him.
4) They develop our faith and perseverance.
5) They cause us to relate to God in a more personal and real way.
6) They are used by God to sanctify us, making us more like Christ
7) They allow us to receive comfort from God, and give us the gift of extending that comfort to to others in their own afflictions.
8) They give us a longing for heaven and for God's redemptive purposes to go forth on the earth
The picture described in Romans 8 has been an encouragement for me as I walk through this Lenten season. As all of creation groans, we groan as well, longing for the redemption of all things. Our spirits long for eternal, perfect fellowship with God and man, and we mourn over the brokenness we see in our present world and our present relationships. Our bodies long for the glorious bodies God has prepared for us, where we will no longer grow weary or cry or feel sick or experience death.
But in our present sufferings where these are not yet fully realized, we cling to Jesus, our Suffering Servant and victorious King. We remember that our sufferings are momentary, and that His sufferings purchased for us eternal glory and fellowship with Him.
... May our grief over sin fill our hearts with wonder over the truth that Jesus bore all of our sin in His body on the tree.
...May our aches and pains and illnesses remind us of the cross that Jesus carried and the physical pain that He endured so that we might have a glorious, new body.
... May our longings and desires remind us of how He longed for us and pursued us when we did not know Him in our sin.
...May the poverty in and around us remind us that He delighted to become poor for us. He became poor so that we might become rich in Him.
...May our present trials make us more thankful for what Jesus endured for us and cause our hearts to explode with affection for Him!
“...For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
-2 Cor. 5:4-5