Watch and Pray, The fifth Week of Lent

Satan dreads nothing but prayer.
His one concern is to keep the saints from praying.
He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion.
He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.
– Samuel Chadwick

Now we really are in the teeth of Lent – the fifth week. The fifth week of Lent, following on the week of Joy, is a classic let down. It’s like that weigh in on a long diet the week after a stunning 5 pound loss when the scale reads up by 2 pounds – or the “hey, this stay at home thing isn’t so bad” just before news that this is going to last a while. If Laetare week (week 4) occurred just before Holy Week that would be kind of awesome. In that case we would have only one last agonizing stretch of days with the light of Easter at the end of the tunnel. But instead we leave the joy of week 4 for another full week of Lent followed closely by the even greater intensity of Christ’s suffering during Holy Week.

So what is week 5 replicating in our life of discipleship? Maybe this point of our Lenten journey prepares us for those times in life when we need to prepare – mind, body and soul – for the trials still to come. Week 5 is a sort of training for the rigor of Holy Week. It is a training that ultimately liberates.

I have a friend, Kenny, who now lives in Florida and serves as the VP of Young Life College. Back in the day we were all in a small group together. I was in my first full time call. When I would ask prayers for challenging seasons in ministry, Kenny used to look at me and warn, with a little shake of the head and no joking or irony, “Remember – Satan wants to sift you like wheat …”. Jesus’ words to Peter (Luke 22:31-32). It was Kenny’s way of reminding me to stay alert to my own temptations and blind spots in the midst of challenges that tempted me to focus on the temptations and blindness of others. How easy for Peter and the rest to focus attention on Judas’ imminent betrayal and fall prey to denial or desertion themselves …

Jesus followed his warning to Peter with these words: “but I have prayed for you – that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This is where our confidence belongs – not in our own determination to stand under testing, but in Jesus’ determination to pray for our endurance and encouragement of others. The fifth week of Lent is the week to remember that Satan desires to sift us like wheat – to remember that Jesus is praying for us – to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation, but remain faithfully turned toward Jesus’ cross, and from that location, “strengthen our sisters and brothers”.

In Sunday’s sermon during our joint UPC Livestream worship, Pastor George quoted Samuel Chadwick on prayer – the quote at the top of this devotion. George also reminded us of Jesus’ words to his best friends just before entering the garden (also Luke 22) – “pray that you don’t give in to temptation”. This is our invitation in week 5 of Lent. Fervent prayer. Not passing prayer. Prayer that is alert – awake – watchful – honest about how vulnerable and fallible we are – focused on how faithful and capable Jesus is to work grace through our weakness.

Tonight, I invite you to add evening prayers to your routine. I’m challenged to replace my habit of one last look online on what the news from the day has been, and instead, kneel and pray for strength to face the trials still to come. Remember – Jesus is also praying for you!

In His care,
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