Lenten Meditations: Penitence as Spiritual Discipline

Pastoral Reflections

We continue the Lenten journey, a season in which the Christian church is called to intentional spiritual disciplines. Characteristic practices of the season include self-examination, penitence, self-denial through pleasures given up, positive actions taken up such as alms-giving and regular times of prayer, and more.

Lenten observances are beneficial for the Christian life. They discipline us and refocus our attention on the spiritual life – away from the blaring noise of the world around us. However, they can sometimes come with inherent risks. Lent can become so ‘action focused’ that it begins to offer a certain sense of spiritual satisfaction based on external practices. This can be subtle.

I try to remind myself that the external practices (which we affirm), must be hinged on the deep, internal matters of the heart. One of those is the discipline of penitence. Why is penitence a necessary spiritual discipline?

Firstly, in penitence, we express our humility before God. When we repent, we choose not to sweep our shortcomings under the carpet. We instead humble ourselves by bringing them up in faith that they can be removed from us.

Secondly, in penitence, we respond rightfully to God’s holiness. Our penitence does not merely recognize our shortcomings. It acknowledges God’s holiness. As it were, we lift our eyes from our helpless selves and dare to look up to the Holy One in whose need we are.

Finally, penitence enables us to receive the gift of Christ. In Christ, God’s holiness no longer causes us to cringe and run… for it does not condemn us. Rather, it purifies us from sinfulness as God reaches out and touches us in Christ.