I’ve got to be honest. I’d heard of Lent, but it sounded like a strange practice to me — something other churches celebrate, but not anything I considered valuable for myself. After all, I can’t find any mention of Lent in the Bible.
Lent has a long history in some parts of the church, especially among Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants. It’s a forty-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, often observed beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday of Easter weekend. This year, it began on March 6.
Lent is a period of fasting, following the example of Moses (Exodus 34:28), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and especially Jesus (Mark 4:2). It may have been prescribed to baptismal candidates in past centuries.
As I got to know friends who observe Lent, I began to understand its value. It’s not commanded. Christians are free to practice it or not. In fact, you may choose not to observe Lent if you don’t find it helpful.
But I no longer find it strange. In fact, I’m convinced that we can leverage this season for our own growth and devotion to God.
Here are three Lenten practices that can help us grow.
A couple of times I’ve taken my car to the mechanic and told him, “Here are the keys. Look at everything, and fix anything you think needs fixing.” Because I trust him, I’ve been happy with the results. Sometimes we need to give things a good examination and address anything that needs to be fixed.
Our lives are like that too. We quickly become overburdened or veer off course. Sometimes we need to take a good look at our lives, take inventory of what we find, and get rid of anything that’s hindering our relationship with Christ.2 Timothy 2:20-22 says,
“Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also those of wood and clay; some for honorable use and some for dishonorable. So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” Lent is a good time to purify ourselves from dishonorable things and get rid of anything that’s not helping us grow.
Leading up to Easter, ask God to reveal things in your life that don’t please him or that are hurting your relationship with him. Talk to a friend and get support as you do so. Take this opportunity to conduct a spiritual spring cleaning in your life.
These days, many people fast for health reasons. Scripture, though, teaches us the value of fasting for spiritual reasons.
“Christian fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes,” writes Donald Whitney.1 While fasting usually refers to food — not eating at all for a certain period of time, or for part of each day, or from certain kinds of food — people also find it useful to fast from other things like social media or entertainment.
Surprisingly, Jesus assumed that his followers would fast (Matthew 6:16-17; 9:14-15). When we fast, we remind ourselves that we hunger most for God, and that nothing else can completely satisfy us.
Lent is a good time to join with others in fasting. What can you give up that will cause you to hunger more for God? Begin small and experiment.
If you’re interested in learning more about fasting, books like John Piper’s A Hunger for God or Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life may be helpful.
Every year, events like Christmas and Easter sneak up on me. I don’t know why. They’re entirely predictable, and yet they somehow take me by surprise.
This year, while reading my Bible, I noticed that God commanded a Feast of Trumpets to shortly before the Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:23-25). One of the purposes of this festival seems to have been to give notice to prepare. Sometimes we need a signal to being preparing for important events.
Lent serves as an annual symbol. “Easter is coming! Prepare yourself so you can really be ready to worship God for what he accomplished through the cross and empty tomb.”
We don’t have to observe Lent, but we can use it as a period of examination, fasting, and preparation. Done right, it can help us grow in our walk with God as we celebrate the greatest event of history.