Years ago a new trend evolved in the contemporary church. A generation of believers decided to create a place of worship that was free of tradition. The general understanding was tradition is hollow, dusty, and religious. As a follower of Jesus, you never want to represent any of these things. But has tradition gained a bad rap?
I once heard the story about grandmother’s infamous pot roast. In preparation, she would cut the ends off the roast before placing it in the oven. Daughters and granddaughters followed her recipe and cut the ends off the roast just like their beloved grandma. One of the granddaughters asked grandma at a gathering, “Why do we cut the ends off the roast?” Grandma said it was because the large wedge of meat never fit into her roasting pan.
So it is with religious acts or tradition. We often follow rote behavior without understanding the meaning of our actions. We become like the Samaritans, who followed their own outward traditions rather than the heart of God. In contrast, we desire to have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, offering worship from a sincere heart. The possibility of traditions holding any meaningful purpose is rarely considered.
I was recently invited to participate in Lent with a group of women. Although I have fasted in my worship, I have never participated during Lenten season. I believed the tradition of Lent was merely a religious act. I remember friends who talked about Lent with drudgery, and I never witnessed a sincere desire to follow Jesus in their daily lives. Now it was time to research its meaning.
During the Lenten season, one chooses to fast. Fasting has an amazing way of drawing you to Jesus while you are suffering from the desire of that item you have given up. Its purpose is to renew your heart and draw you closer to God in fellowship.
A candle is burnt out at the end of each of the 7 weeks of Lent. One less shining candle represents a life darkened by sin. By the seventh week, the candles are dark, symbolizing a life without the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. On the final day, Easter Sunday, the 7 candles are lit and the flame dances in celebration that the Savior has risen and given us new life. The Light of the world has overcome the darkness.
Now I am experiencing the richness of this tradition. Should I participate again, it will be from a heart of freedom and never out of duty. This is the difference between religious acts and relationship with Jesus.
Religious traditions are able to tie rich meaning to our beliefs. They serve as word pictures to help us grasp who our Heavenly Father is and who we are in relation to Him. These traditions become meaningless acts of religion when we don’t communicate their purpose. If our very lives; our talking, our thinking, our working, our loving, are not offered up to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), the sacrifice of Lent or fasting, is meaningless to God. He cannot be fooled by our pretense.
When you are confronted with the opportunity to participate in a religious tradition, consider its benefits in your family and spiritual life. Research the tradition in order to understand why you may consider participating. Keep in mind the futility of participating out of obligation or rote behavior.
Jesus said, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23,24).
Dear Jesus, I desire to honor You in everything I do. I want my worship to be sincere and pleasing to You. Please help me to understand (any tradition) and whether it brings honor to You through my life. Amen.