I have been wanting to talk about Lent. Yes, Lent. But, honestly, I’ve been a little stuck. What do I say? Am I pro? Con? Is it necessary? Good? Too “high church?” Important for evangelicals? Have I practiced it before? Has it become “trendy” for evangelicals?
Yes, pretty much yes.
The Lenten fast was established in the 4th century. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Holy Saturday. It is 46 days total, 40 days not counting Sundays. (They are like mini-Easters) 40 days is symbolic of the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness.
In its beginnings, in the books, in the written tradition there are SO. MANY. rules and regulations. It starts this day. It ends this day. You can do this, but not that. And, strangely, in places like Europe where there is a large international community, you have two Lent seasons going on at once. This is because the Orthodox church (Russian, Romanian, etc. still goes by the Gregorian calendar for their movable feasts/holidays. So, our Romanian friends would have Easter on a totally different day. Strange, right?
Anyway, what essentially is Lent all about? Lent is recognizing and honoring the sacrifice of Jesus. Lent is a time for preparing us for Easter through things like prayer, penance (like making amends), repenting of sins, giving, fasting, and denying yourself. It is a time of sacrifice. Why? Well, we fast and deny ourselves in order to sacrifice and remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
So, in this day and age, how to we practice Lent? I would say to concentrate on a few key elements.
Confession: This is definitely a season of reflection. It’s a time to think about the things that we do that cause us to be living outside of God’s will. Is there anything in my heart that I need to change? Any sins that I need to confess? Psalm 139 says this:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
We can pray this prayer and ask God to show us what we need to change.
Fasting: Fasting, in general, can be a very powerful thing. It can be found all throughout the Bible, in both the old and new testaments. It is a way of disciplining ourselves. It is a way of denying ourselves of things that may be distractions in order to truly listen to and hear God’s voice. It is learning to say no and strengthening ourselves so that when temptations come, we already know how to withstand them.
Meditation and Prayer regarding Christ’s sacrifice: In addition to fasting, use this time for prayer and meditation. Use scripture to do this, if you wish.
12 “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.
1 Peter 5:6
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Lastly, Almsgiving: Remember when you would go to restaurants and there were those little boxes at the register to put quarters in to donate to anything from missing children to the Lions Club? I mean, you can still do that now at some places but it was really big in the 80’s. A friend of mine just told me that that was one of the ways his parents used to practice Lent. They always made sure to have change to put in all the boxes. I don’t think that that is exactly what our spiritual forefathers had in mind but I’m often wrong.
During Lent, we are offered a time to become tuned in to the sufferings of Jesus. But, we are to also become aware of the sufferings of others. How can we do this? You can definitely just give more. Give until you “feel it,” not just out of your excess. You can give of your time. I have a son who has, throughout the years, been known to make friends with homeless men and get them a slice of pizza or a burger. He doesn’t just buy stuff, though. He listens. The first time I saw him do this he was probably 13, and I’m sure he didn’t know that I saw him. That to say, it doesn’t take anything special. A kid can do it. Or, you can always give away your things to someone in need. Right now, our church members are carrying around “blessing bags” for the homeless and needy that they come into contact with.
I have practiced Lent in the past, though I am not this year. I do enjoy the way it calms my spirit and prepares me for celebrating the entire reason for the hope that I profess in Christ Jesus. I love the way it centers around His sacrifice. But, I am also cautious. Here’s why. Giving up something cannot earn us God’s blessings. Grace cannot be earned. It is a gift! A free gift. Romans 5:17 says that through Jesus we receive, “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness.” I love this, and I am so grateful for this gift.
So, whether you are learning new things about this Lenten season, or if you have practiced it every year, move forward with grace. Either way, honor and celebrate and share in the sacrifice of our Savior. Because though we seek Christianity for the joy it brings, it is truly the cross that keeps us coming back and points us to our Hope.