I grew up Catholic, so Lent has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. But lately, I’ve been surprised to see some of my Protestant friends sort of thumb their nose at the observance of Lent as something purely Catholic. In fact, many dismiss it as something vilified during the Reformation right along with indulgences.
A Little Bit About Lent
Lent is far more than just ashes on your forehead, fish on Fridays, and 40 days of abstaining from your favorite vices.
Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas. A time of preparation, focus, intention. A time for remembering. And a time to invite God to examine our hearts and lead us to true repentence.
Lent is observed the 6 weeks preceding Easter beginning on a Wednesday. This Wednesday is referred to as Ash Wednesday and usually involves a service where the previous year’s fronds from Palm Sunday are burned to ash and used to mark the forehead with the sign of the cross. Ashes on the head were a common biblical practice for both mourning and repentance. Receiving the ashes is meant to be a reminder of my own sinfulness, my mortality because of that sin, and my redemption through Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice on the cross. More on that HERE.
Lent lasts 40 days to represent Jesus’ time of fasting and testing in the wilderness following His baptism and the 40 days Moses spent with God on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments. But 6 weeks is more than 42 days? It is, but Sundays are not included in this time frame because they are historically considered feast days, not for fasting. Lent technically ends on Holy or Maundy Thursday, but with fasting resuming on Good Friday.
The Opposition to Lent
Those who oppose the observance of Lent typically do so for four basic reasons:
1) It is not a practice recorded in nor commanded by the Bible.
2) It’s practice by the early Catholic church reeks of the legalism Jesus lambasted the Pharisees for practicing.
3) The temptation to become prideful by practicing Lent is great.
4) It has become so trivialized now there is no point in its practice.
Critics of the Opposition to Lent
Critics of the opposition to Lent often suggest that those who refuse to practice it are unable to face the things that make them uncomfortable, like repentance, suffering, mourning, and sin. Or in other cases they are guilty of throwing out a good practice in the name of preserving the truth of Scripture without truly realizing the practices it promotes.
We can all agree self-denial doesn’t save you. Only Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross saves us from the eternal damnation brought about by our sins. We do not gain favor with God by through lives of asceticism (for more on asceticism read Katie’s Word Nerd Wednesday post HERE). We only gain favor with God by receiving the gift of faith He gives us. Only through the gift of faith do we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who enables us to deny our flesh and do the good works God has prepared for us. Our suffering is an opportunity to see, seek, and sympathize with our Savior.
So, if you really want to practice the intent of Lent, I compiled this list of 15 things you can do for the next 40 days to deepen your repentance and remembrance. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
15 Things to Do During Lent
- Keep a daily gratitude journal.
- Practice daily random acts of kindness.
- Pray daily for God to show you any hidden sins and lead you to repent.
- Alternate reading one chapter of Mark and Luke each day except Sundays.
- Read 1 Chapter of Exodus every day.
- Fast from something pleasurable to remind yourself to trust and turn to God for His provision.
- Truly embrace the celebration of the Sabbath.
- Pray, meditate on, and memorize Psalm 51 and Psalm 139
- Give up whining and complaining. Notice how often you catch yourself doing it.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Notice how often you catch yourself doing it.
- Trade in fear and worry for peace. Notice how often you catch yourself doing fretting.
- Get up earlier than usual and pray.
- Tithe more intentionally.
- Donate time or items to a charity.
- Read Daily Lenten Devotionals, like the ones found HERE.
Mine Your Motives about Lent
Lent is neither commanded nor condemned in Scripture. But repentance, prayer, gratitude, fasting are all commanded. Legalism, self-righteousness, pride, and works based salvation are all condemned. I can’t say if Lent is for you or not. Only you can decide that for yourself. You must mine your own motives. Use these questions to prayerfully guide you decision:
1) Does the practice promote pride or penitence in your heart?
2) Are you doing it out of a sense of obligation or gratitude?
3) Do you think or hope
4) Are you abstaining from something in order to make more room for God?
5) Does depriving yourself of God’s material blessings cause you to draw closer to Him?
6) Does practicing Lent fill you with repentance and reverence or resentment?
7) Does this manufactured suffering cause you to meditate on Jesus’ suffering or simply obsess over your own desires?
8) Does mourning Jesus’ death for your sin make His sacrifice sweeter for you?
9) Does your conscious stand in opposition to the practice on the basis of legalism?
10) Are you practicing Lent to be approved of by men or because God approves of you through His Son?10 Questions to ask yourself when you wonder if Lent is for you. #lent #mineyourmotives Click To Tweet
Practice the Intent of Lent
If the way you live during Lent is vastly different from the other 46 weeks of the year, perhaps whether or not you practice Lent isn’t the problem. We Christians will always live at war with our flesh this side of heaven. Prayer is the means by which we call on Jesus to intercede for us in this battle. Our suffering is both a byproduct of sin and one method by which we are united with Christ this side of the cross. Repentance and reliance on the Holy Spirit are the means by which we are made new in the image of Christ, how we experience victory over sin.
The truth is, Christians ought to practice the intent of Lent every single day. Repent of our sin. Be grateful for all God has graciously blessed us with. Trust Him to meet our every need. Seek His face with all our hearts and souls and minds. Love Him and our neighbors. Remember our Savior and His suffering to atone for our sin. In fact, if we cannot fully embrace our dire need for a Savior who suffered for our sins, can we ever truly celebrate His resurrection? Without that realization, what is Easter?
What are your thoughts?
Where do you stand? Is Lent simply a man-made means to manufacture salvation through obligatory observations or could it be a practice of spiritual discipline that leads us toward sanctification by the Spirit?
My friend Sarah Geringer has a great resource for Lent: The 40-Day Lenten Devotional and Scripture Writing Plan.