What Is Lent?
Lent is a 40 day period of Christ-centered devotion between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The practice of Lent has been observed by Christians around the world since the early centuries of the church.
Why practice Lent?
The most important reason to practice Lent is to draw near to Jesus Christ and become like him. Lent is a season of intentional discipleship under Christ and with Christ. We also practice Lent to bond more closely with fellow Christians who are on the same journey, not only in our local church but also around the world. Along the way, our sin and enslaving habits are put to death, and we learn to internalize and share in Christ’s resurrection power.
What are ways I can expect to become like Christ during Lent?
There are some themes that often arise when people describe their experience of practicing Lent; however, this list is not exhaustive, God’s activity in your life cannot be predicted or controlled.
Humility– Humility is the capacity to recognize who we are in relationship to the living God. The path of Lent reveals our mortality, sin and limitations. Often, the Holy Spirit reveals personal and corporate blind spots during Lent. Our hunger pains, headaches and failures during Lent become living reminders of our great need for the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.
Reordered Loves– The gentle harness of Lent is designed to loosen our unhealthy attachments to creation (including food, drink, and money) so that we may enjoy a deeper bond to the Creator. We learn to internalize and enjoy the love of Christ during Lent.
Purity– Soren Kierkegaard said that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” During Lent, we see the incompatibility between our commitment to Jesus and our dabbling in idolatry. We confess our sins and thereby take hold of the forgiveness that is ours in the Gospel.
Joy– As we give ourselves to him in our suffering, Jesus Christ supplies us with a lasting spiritual overflow and the consolation of the Holy Spirit. This is to be distinguished from a spiritual high, which cannot be sustained over time or during suffering. Easter Sunday and corporate worship during Lent grants us a taste of heaven.
Renewed Imaginations– As we progress through events of Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent and the drama of Holy Week, see ourselves and the world as they are in God. The events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection become for us a window into the new creation (otherwise known as the Kingdom of God) in which we can participate and from which we can receive a secure identity.
Dependence– During Lent, we unlearn the lie that we are self-made, self-contained individuals. We learn to draw upon the life of God and the bonds of affection with our fellow Christians.
How Can I Practice Lent?
Worship at a local church, preferably every Sunday and during special services (Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday). Lent is an important season to be with the people of God, even if they are not practicing Lent.
Ask the Lord Jesus to give you a specific vision for your Lenten journey this year, and devote yourself to training for that vision as you move toward Easter.
Seek out a pastor, spiritual director, or small group for spiritual support and to confess your sins.
Remember to take Sundays as “feast” days, meaning you can relax from the fasts you’ve been observing during the rest of the week.
Slip under the gentle harness of Lent, which has three strands:
Fasting is a willing abstention from eating food (and sometimes drink) to make space in our souls to feast on Jesus.
-Partial Fast: cutting out part of your diet such as sugar/desserts, alcohol, meat, caffeine, or dairy products for the entire duration of Lent (except Sundays). Chose something that has an inordinate hold on your life.
-Partial “Media” Fast: You may choose to abstain from modern distractions that have an inordinate hold on your imagination, such as social media, screen-based entertainment, or the news.
-Whole Fast: choose a challenging weekly practice of skipping entire meals, from 1 meal a week to 1-2 days per week. You still need to take in enough water and calories to sustain energy without satisfying hunger. Key days to practice the Whole Fast is Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. You can continue this practice on Fridays throughout the year as a way to remember Jesus’ death and commune with him on the way to your resurrection.
Prayer is participating in the life of God talking with and listening to him, whether in solitude or in common worship. Christians often pray using the Scriptures, especially the Psalms. In Lent our prayers take on a tone of repentance and contrition. A couple of specific practices are to pray the Psalms and/or Daily Office (see a guide HERE) or to adapt the Jesus Prayer to suit your particular experience: “Jesus, Savior, Son of God, have mercy on me, a Sinner!”. Also, find ways to pray with others–whether at a church service, with a small group, or around a dinner table.
Alms-Giving is a direct participation in God’s generosity as we give away our resources in love to our neighbor.
-Begin with prayer walks, observing the areas where your community is in need and in pain.
-Set aside money for a “neighbor fund” that you would otherwise spend on yourself. Pray for opportunities to spend it in love towards your neighbor, be they a coworker, extended family, prisoners, or refugees.
-Give generously towards your local church above and beyond your tithe. If they highlight a special offering for missions, contribute money that you have set aside during Lent.
Finally, let failure be your teacher. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself slipping out of the gentle harness into old patters. Your “inner rebel” will rise up and assert itself against the vision of deeper communion with Christ. Use this as an opportunity to cry out to God (and his people) to encourage and support you. Failure and setbacks are tools in Jesus’ hands to shape you into his image. Remember the Apostle Paul’s great paradox, that Christ’s strength is indeed displayed through our weakness.
Click the link below see a Lenten reading list along with some other helpful resources.