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Lent: Is Self-Denial Worth It?

As readers of this blog know, my husband and I have given up alcohol for Lent. In my initial post on the topic ("Considering Lent: Disruptive Grace"), I wrote about my hope that deliberately changing a habit would open my eyes to see more of God's work in the world. I hoped it would make me more attentive to the work of the Spirit in our midst. But I have to admit that most days, I'm just aware of what I'm not doing, rather than having some new super-spirituality or profound experience of God's presence.

And yet, I've had glimpses of God's presence. For example, the topic of the sermon the first Sunday of Lent was Ephesians 5:18, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Hmm. Eyes to see, indeed.

Not only was the sermon topic a call for me to pay attention to my drinking habits, but our pastor also provided a new and rich perspective on the meaning of this verse. He explained that the word "filled" can be interpreted in two ways. "Filled with" can refer to the substance that fills an empty vessel or it can refer to the mechanism by which the filling happens. He used the analogy of a car at a gas station. We can describe the experience in two ways: One, "I filled my car up with gas." Two, "I filled my car up with the gas pump."

Our pastor argued that the Ephesians verse is using the second meaning. Rather than envisioning ourselves as filled with the Spirit as if we carry around the Spirit in our bodies, he explained that the Spirit actually does the work of filling us up with good things, namely with confidence in God's love for us and love for the world too. For instance, Romans 5:5: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

I guess it should be obvious that a glass of wine does not effect permanent and lasting change and goodwill within me. And a great encouragement that God's Spirit works to do exactly that–to transform me into a person filled with God's love.

Seems that God is giving me eyes to see after all.

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