We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. –Abraham Lincoln, 1863
If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century… men have forgotten God. –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Dear God, we pay for all this ourselves. So thanks for nothing. –Bart Simpson (praying at the dinner table)
The Lenten season is upon us, and if you are as I was, you may think this has something to do with your t-shirt. I am not making this up. The first time I heard someone speak about Lent, I thought I heard the word lint. Like the lint that collects in one’s belly button after wearing a newer t-shirt. Like the stuff that collects in the filter of your clothes dryer. I asked for clarification. Why does the church observe lint? I asked. Think about it, forty days of lint. Why, you could stuff a new pillow each year….
Lent is a season for the church worldwide. It lasts 46 days, from Ash Wednesday until Easter (40 days plus 6 Sundays). Lent is an ancient tradition that mirrors the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness preparing for his public ministry. Historically, the church has understood Lent to be a time for spiritual reflection, confession, repentance, and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.
But Lent is also a season for gratitude and thanksgiving. During Lent we ponder the fact that God became man. We meditate upon Jesus who walked, deliberately and literally, from Galilee to Jerusalem in order that he might suffer and die in our stead. When we think on this, how can we not be grateful? How can we not overflow with thanksgiving?
Consider the alternative to thanksgiving and gratitude, as Fyodor Dostoevsky did in The Brothers Karamazov, one of the greatest novels of all time. The Russian writer grappled with the encroaching godlessness of the nineteenth century, showing that if God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted. Without God we have no restraints. But, worse perhaps, if there is no God, then there is no one to whom we can give thanks. The wellspring of gratitude within us has no outlet. Fifty or so years after Dostoevsky, G. K. Chesterton saw the same horror of abandoning God: The worst moment for an atheist is when he is genuinely thankful, but has nobody to thank. In our time, Os Guinness laments the modern world that has no need of God and therefore has produced a people with no sense of gratitude.
Gratitude, however, is the fundamental disposition of a believer and what better time than Lent for the believer to gush gratitude about all things good! All things good? Yes. Every day of life, every meal we eat, every moment of laughter, the movement of our limbs, the groceries in our kitchen, and ten thousand other good things are—each one of them—gifts from God! As the apostle Paul wrote, What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:7). James tells us that every good gift is from our heavenly Father (James 1:17). The writer of Hebrews says our lives ought to be marked by a continual offering up of a sacrifice of praise to God (13:15). As St. Augustine put it, the Christian is an alleluia from head to foot.
So why is the title of this missive Lent, Life, and Gratitude? Where does the life component fit in? It fits in this Lenten challenge….
This year, as a church community, let us commit to praying and fasting for life—for unborn life—during these next forty days. As an expression of our gratitude for life itself, for our very own lives, let us pray for the lives of those who are the weakest members of our society.
SBCC has signed on to be a part of a worldwide pro-life campaign that prays for the lives of the unborn during the Lenten season. 40 Days for Life is a non-denominational prayer movement that welcomes people from all faiths to pray for the end of the holocaust of abortion.
40 Days for Life began in 2004 as a one-time effort in Bryan/College Station, Texas. Local Christians organized a 40-day campaign designed to revitalize pro-life efforts in their community. A number of other cities heard about the campaign and conducted similar programs. The first nationwide 40 Days for Life effort was launched in the fall of 2007, and the project has since expanded internationally. In 340 cities around the world, the church is committed to this prayer vigil in 2017.
Santa Barbara Community Church is hardly alone in the 40 Days for Life prayer movement here in Santa Barbara. We are joining several Roman Catholic congregations as well as St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, Goleta Valley Church, Calvary Chapel, Bethel Church of God in Christ, Bethany Congregational, and Christ the King Episcopal Church.
here is how each of us can be involved:
Commit to fasting and prayer during this Lenten season. Fasting from something we crave (soda, chocolate, television, etc.) compels us to remember the season in which Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. And will you commit to praying daily for the end of abortion in Santa Barbara? Will you pray for those considering an abortion? For the innocent children who are at risk of losing their lives? Will you pray for the men and women who are deeply pained by their own participation in abortion? Will you pray for workers at Planned Parenthood facilities, asking that God would awaken their consciences and soften their hearts? Will you pray for our leaders and judges who will make decisions affecting future generations? Will you ask God to compel us to repent of our sins and embrace the One who is the way, the truth, and the life?
Consider signing up to pray publicly at Planned Parenthood Santa Barbara (518 Garden St.). For the past few years, 40 Days for Life has been trying to maintain a prayerful presence there during Lent and will do so again this year. This is not a protest; it is a prayer vigil. Will you go for one hour—one hour a week, sometime during the facility’s 7:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. business hours—and pray?
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, spoke recently about the importance of taking a stand for life: The essential part of what it means to be a Christian in this cultural moment is to take a strong stand on the side of life. If you are serious about living out the gospel in culture, if you are serious about helping those who are vulnerable—the unborn are the clearest example.
Lent is upon us. Let us be people of thanksgiving and gratitude. And let us be people who pray for life.