Lent is For Us
February 02, 2021
In just a little over two weeks, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the church season of Lent. But what is Lent? The dictionary definition says this:
- the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.
In remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as he prepared to begin his ministry, we spend forty days in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Of course, as the dictionary definition pointed out, that is forty weekdays and not forty consecutive days because, traditionally, Sundays are each a “little Easter” and are not counted.
But what difference does it make?
Or, a better question might be, what will you do differently for these forty days?
In our modern era, the most well-known thing to do is to “give up” something for Lent. For many of us who grew up Protestant, giving up something for Lent might be well-known, but it tends to be poorly understood. To put it simply, giving up something for Lent, is a form of fasting. We give up coffee, or chocolate, or buying takeout food as a substitute for fasting, or giving up food entirely, for forty days.
But still, what’s the point?
The dictionary is not helpful. The dictionary definition of a fast says, “abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.” And, as I noted, simply saying that a fast is a “religious observance” is not helpful in understanding its purpose. A fast is supposed to be a mechanism to draw us closer to God. Usually, fasting and prayer are twins of a sort, or something that we would normally do together. The point of fasting is two-fold, I think. The first part comes closer to the dictionary definition that it is a part of a religious observance, in that it demonstrates our obedience to God and our desire to know God better. But as the first twin of the pair, fasting also is a reminder to us to spend time in prayer. As we fast, whether it is from food, from chocolate, from television, or whatever, we will be reminded to pray whenever we have a desire, out of hunger or out of habit, for the thing from which we are fasting. Whenever we are hungry, we are reminded to pray. Whenever we habitually reach for a chocolate bar, or for the television remote, we are reminded to spend time in prayer instead. During our time of fasting, we fill the time we would have done something else, eating or watching television, etc., with prayer, Bible reading, devotional time, or some other thing that draws us into God’s presence and into a closer relationship with him.
So, do we have to fast during these forty days of Lent?
No, we do not. While I have, I typically do not. But, that said, Lent remains a season that is deliberately set aside for us to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits, for the celebration of Easter. It is a time for us to reflect, repent, and draw closer to God. Fasting is just one way of doing that (and it’s a good one).
As you read this, I urge you to use this season of Lent in the way that it is intended. If you choose to fast from something, that’s great (but if you want to fast from food, please have a conversation with your doctor before you do). But whether you fast, I hope that you will find some way of drawing closer to God. Take the time to reflect, to repent, and to draw closer to God. Find a good Lenten devotional and spend time, each day, reading it, reading the scriptures that it recommends or suggests, reflecting, repenting, and praying.
Rather than turning the calendar on Easter Sunday morning and saying “Happy Easter” to friends and family like someone crossing the finish line without running the race, I urge you to spend some time in preparation. I hope that we will each take the time to run the race and spend the season of Lent drawing closer to God and preparing our hearts for Easter.
Lent is not something that God requires of us. It is a gift that has been given to us.
When we take the time to draw closer to God and prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, Easter becomes even more meaningful and affects us even more deeply.
Lent is a gift.
What will you do with it?
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