Many of us have asked, been asked, or overheard someone ask the question, “What did you give up for Lent?” Often, the respondent makes an overture about “chocolate,” or “television,” or “desserts,” “fast food,” or going to bed too late – any number of vices that seem to have an emotional or physical “hold” on us. (By the time the Lenten season rolls around those New Year’s Resolutions have mostly run their course and it may seem time to make a second effort to re-secure our resolve.)
Sometimes, people just know they need to make some changes and feel like Lent is an opportunity to bring God back into the picture by thinking, “If I make God part of the deal, I’ll be more successful.” Some people choose to practice fasting or abstinence and replace that which they’ve given up with prayer and meditation on God’s Word. These folks may be closer to the reality of what the season of Lent represents in the Christian’s life and the Church calendar; yet, many people in today’s church ask another question about Lent: “Practice Lent? Why?”
As a child, my family did not observe Lent. We did not observe Ash Wednesday – and when I saw some of my friends at school with a “black smudge” on their foreheads – I had some questions that my parents
found difficult to answer. Preparing to be a pastor, I had the opportunity to raise the same questions with other pastors and professors. I was surprised to learn that in not observing Lent, I was missing out on a personal enactment of Christ’s own journey to th Cross, and therefore, had not the personal experience of taking up my cross as a spiritual exercise.
Lent is a 40-day preparation between Ash Wednesday and the Maundy Thursday before Easter used as an observance of Christ’s passion, burial,
and resurrection. Though Lent is not biblical – meaning, we are not taught to observe Lent from the Bible – it is an ancient, spiritual custom handed down from the early church and Apostolic Fathers – leading us to understand more deeply what Christ’s relationship with us looks like, and it intentionally has the effect of leading us to Christ as an observance of
the unfolding drama of His revelation to us. Jesus taught, “If you want to be my disciples you must “turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). By this statement Jesus meant that we must be willing to “die to self” and live for God – even if it costs us something dear.
The season and practice of Lent helps prepare us todo that. It allow us to participate in the believer’s discipleship of “sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
There are many ways to practice Lent; however, in my opinion, replacing time we spend on ourselves doing things we enjoy by intentionally spending time with God in His Word and in prayer will be a blessing
producing pure joy. May the Lord grant you the patience and discipline to observe Lent and so enrich your experience with Him. Amen.