Why do we observe Lent? Well, we don’t observe Lent as a way of pleasing God or gaining His favor. Jesus makes clear that God is interested in the renewal of our hearts. Any religious act that seeks to please God solely through observable actions is just that- an act. Neither do we practice Lent because this is what Christians are supposed to do. There are plenty of disciples of Jesus around the world whose devotion doesn’t involve these 40 days. Our participation in Lent doesn’t makes us any more spiritual or acceptable to God.
So, why is Lent important to our church? First, it is a time that calls us to total honesty about the things that hinder our complete surrender to Jesus. In these days we have the gift – though it won’t always feel like a gift – of extended time during which we reflect on the sins, distractions, patterns, and addictions to which we’ve become accustomed. Second, as we acknowledge the frailty that would allow these ugly distractions and idols to attach themselves to us, we find a deeper experience of God’s grace. Though Lent calls us to self-examination it doesn’t leave us with ourselves. We are, in fact, drawn out of our selfishness to the majesty of a Savior who would save a distracted and sinful people like us! The more we consider our sin the greater the cross of Christ will become to us. In other words, our sin will never be larger than the atoning death of Jesus. That’s the Gospel!
As a church we take our lenten practices from the gathered wisdom of the Church over the centuries, practices that involve fasting and abstaining. What does this look like in practice? As you’re considering how you will experience the 40 days of lent, think about three overlapping spheres: church, personal, & community.
As a CHURCH we observe two fasting days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – during which we fast from all but one meal. Throughout lent, Fridays are considered abstaining days when we avoid meat and meat products.
As INDIVIDUALS many of us choose to give up certain things during lent to aid our focus on repenting of anything that has upstaged Jesus Christ in our lives. This might be a favorite food or beverage. It could be giving up social media or television. Maybe you’ll choose to observe a fast on Fridays rather than simply abstaining from meat. With the time and space that is freed up during lent you might also choose to pick up some new practices: joining a Bible study, solitude, contemplative prayer, etc. Don’t overdo it; just choose a simple practice that you can commit to for the 7 weeks of lent.
Finally, there is something rich about experience lent in COMMUNITY. Consider whether there are some simple ways you can involve your friends and family. Maybe that means beginning family devotions with your children. Maybe you commit to a prayer partner during these weeks, asking the Holy Spirit accomplishes a renewing work.