The Season of Lent
What is Lent?
Lent is a season of preparation that looks ahead to Good Friday (commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion) and Easter Sunday (commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead) that dates back to the early centuries of church history. It is a period of 40 days, reminiscent of Jesus’ fasting of 40 days in the wilderness. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (today, February 14, 2018) and lasts until Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday (March 31, 2018).
The season of Lent is intended to be a contemplative time of repentance and taking stock of one’s spiritual health, always in light of the goal of Lent: considering the weight and guilt of sin and seeing it swallowed up in the victory obtained by Jesus Christ, by way of his death on the Cross and subsequent Resurrection from the dead to new and everlasting life. As a help in observing Lent, one author has proposed the following questions:
· What are my characteristic sins, and how can I pray for change?
· What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold?
· In what ways is my devotion to Jesus and his church less than wholehearted?
How do I keep the season of Lent?
While there are I'm sure other ways to observe Lent, here are a few to consider putting into practice. Try one or two to start with, or, if you feel ambitious, try all four. If you falter in a daily observing of Lent, don't beat yourself up. Get up and dust yourself off. Your heavenly Father will take you by the hand, set you on your way, and help you to walk with Him through the Lent season, as with every other season of life.
Self-Examination: Looking into your heart to contemplate and confess sins and temptations that distract from obedience to and love for Jesus. The three questions above can be helpful in this.
Devotional Reading: Reading and praying over God’s Word, perhaps reading one Psalm each day during Lent. Or, using a Lent devotional guide, like this one from The Village Church (free download) or this one from New Growth Press ($9.99).
Self-Denial: Denying yourself something you typically enjoy or take for granted. You often hear of people giving up sugary treats or soda during Lent. Still others give up social media (i.e. – no Instagram and Facebook for all of Lent) or watching Netflix. To be clear, giving up something during Lent does not earn God's favor or in any way put Him in one's debt (i.e. - "I've been good because I gave up gossip for Lent, so now God will bless me" - NO!) Instead, giving up something during Lent is a practice that reflects our Christ-given direction to give up sin, deny ourselves, and follow Him, because we already have God's favor secured in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf.
Acts of Mercy/Compassion: Intentionally looking for opportunities to care for people in need. This could take the shape of skipping eating out at a restaurant and instead giving that money to an organization in your community that helps the poor, oppressed, or disadvantaged (such as Coyote Hill, The Rainbow House, or True North, among many others). It can also look like volunteering with organizations in your community that serve the poor or otherwise disadvantaged (such as Love, INC, or any of the three just mentioned).
Participating in observing Lent finds its full expression in worship with others in a local church setting. Christianity was never intended to be an individual faith, but rather a corporate one, lived out with others in the body of Christ, his Bride, the Church.
Do I have to observe Lent?
No, there is no Biblical command to observe Lent. Still, it remains a helpful practice. If observing Lent feels intimidating or like you're not doing it right, you're certainly not alone. A good starting place would be to carve out 15 minutes each day to pray, read Scripture, and consider one of the three questions at the top of this post.
I look forward to entering this wonderful season that culminates in Easter, a celebration of Jesus' victory over sin and death on our behalf.
What I have written here was helped in part from an article by Rev. Craig Higgins. You can read his article here.