“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13, NIV)
For years I used to make fun of my Catholic friends in high school who were required to give something up for Lent because inevitably most of the girls I knew would give up chocolate or sweets in general. Some days I would order two cookies at our school cafeteria just to impose my Protestant superiority over what seemed like old and outdated traditions.
Plus, I never quite understood how abstaining from chocolate for 40 days was supposed to signify solidarity with Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. Keep in mind, I have never in my life truly abstained from chocolate for 40 days and the thought of it now seems a little like wandering the wilderness.
It hasn’t been until the last few years when I have begun to think about the sheer intentionality of the start to Jesus’ ministry was 40 very dangerous days in the wilderness. He didn’t come up from the baptismal waters of the Jordan and think “You know what I should do today, set out on a ridiculously long journey with no food out in the desert.” He had planned it, sacrificed for it, prepared for and asked for His Father’s blessing upon it. That is how he went out to discern God’s will for His ministry on earth; intentionally, sacrificially, carefully and prayerfully.
So last year, with the idea of intentionality in mind I set out to give up something I personally struggle with: Excuses.
I intentionally confronted the things to which I say “not now” or “I can’t” or “it’s too hard” and asked myself if I had a legitimate reason for those negative scripts to play again and again or if I was just giving excuses for my lack of aspiration, drive or simply my greater desire to be distracted and amused than driven. And I have to tell you, it was hard. When faced with a non-existent workout routine or a day of cleaning the house I could simply gaze at my five-month-old son and tell myself, “I can’t do those things now, I have to be a mom.” And then the Holy Spirit would stop me in my tracks and ask me why I was using the most precious gift I’ve been given as an excuse to waste away the time I’ve been honored with.
Don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate reasons we are kept from doing some things, speaking with some people, righting some wrongs, but don’t let the devil tell you that the fact you are the only one who struggles. Satan has no greater gain than when he convinces you of both your solitariness and your right not to have to go through any type of struggle in life. When he has convinced you of those two things, there is nothing and no one you cannot blame for your undue hardship and the excuses for why nothing changes pile up faster than dishes in a sink.
I came across this verse in 1 Thessalonians awhile back and began to think of the idea of being “blameless.” I don’t claim to be a Greek scholar but I did find that there are two definitions for what is translated “blameless” in modern Greek. The first is how we often read the text, the idea of being without blemish or stain. We think of purity in the sight of God when Paul talks about being holy and blameless. The other definition, which may not be an ancient term, means to literally be out of people to blame, without excuse. Since I don’t read Greek I can’t tell you which of those two words Paul uses but I know that both have an application in our lives.
Maybe, one of the many steps to becoming without blemish in the sight of God is to give up the excuses we cling to and the people and situations we blame and look ourselves square in the face and ask “why not?” Excuses most often let our past define the potential of our future. But if we are in Christ and out of excuses we are told that our life is to be lived to the full. (John 10:10)
Ash Wednesday is March 2. Maybe you have needed a reason to put your excuses aside and live with more intentionality. I encourage you do it and receive the freedom that it brings when you succeed and the grace that is handed down when you fail. Plus, I would never ask you to give up chocolate.
Ali can be reached via email here.