Just before Lent began this year, I was struck by a bible passage from Isaiah (1:11-18):
11 What do I care, the Lord says, how you multiply those victims of yours? I have had enough and to spare. Burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of stall-fed beasts, and the blood of calves and lambs and goats are nothing to me. 12 Think you it is a welcome sound, the tramp of your feet in my courts bringing worship such as yours? 13 Vain offerings, bring them no more, this incense of yours is an abomination. Enough of new moons and sabbaths, of thronged assemblies where none but sinners meet! 14 The new month begins, the feast day comes round, how it cloys the appetite! These be hateful tasks I can bear no longer. 15 Hold out your hands as you will, you shall get no heed from me; add prayer to prayer, I will not listen; are not those hands stained with blood?16 Wash yourselves clean, spare me the sight of your busy wickedness, of your wrong-doing take farewell. 17 Learn, rather, how to do good, setting your hearts on justice, righting the wrong, protecting the orphan, giving the widow redress; 18 then come back, says the Lord, and make trial of me. Crimson-dyed be your guilt, it shall turn snow-white; like wool new-washed yonder scarlet stain. [Isaiah 1:11-18, Knox Bible]
I am focused most on verse 11, but provide the entire passage for more context. What comes to my mind is that Lent, but actually our entire prayer life, is about more than just the small sacrifices we make (our “giving up” something for the time of Lent), it is about making time for God, or offering Him a sacrifice of time.
The basic thought is that we have everything because of God; it all rightly belongs to Him as creator and Lord of everything. He gives it to us for our (proper) use, but really offering anything to Him as a sacrifice is only giving it back to him. Some have more, some have less, which is why the ancient Jewish practice specified different sacrificial animals for people who could afford more or less. Time, however, is given to all equally (24 hours each day, no more, no less), and each individual makes choices every moment on how to use it. What Isaiah 1:11 seems to be saying is that the physical offerings will be refused if one is not turned properly to God. The passage goes further to indicate that even prayers will be unanswered if actions do not match with God’s precepts (“setting your hearts on justice…protecting the orphan…”). Going through the motions is not enough, there has to be a total conversion to God.
What it comes down to is a question of how you choose to spend your time: Are you in pursuit of holiness, not just by praying (which is important), but in your actions? Do you take the time to be present and see Christ in those around you (and treat them as such)? How about those Works of Mercy? Or are we too busy and self-absorbed to take the time so that others can see Jesus working through us? These actions do not usually require financial or other resources, they just require time. The question is whether we are willing to sacrifice that time to God by putting it towards His goals, rather than ours. Lent is a time to review our approach and maybe give a little more time back to Him who stands outside and above time itself.