I haven’t given anything up for Lent in years. I searched “the most common things given up for Lent”, and the lists are probably all things you could guess: alcohol, soda, sweets, chips, coffee… Behaviors like swearing, smoking, gossiping and using social media also make some lists. I decided to revisit what observing Lent means. I’d like to review exactly what I could be doing to prepare for Easter in a more meaningful way.
History of Lent
Wow- there is a lot of history surrounding the practice of observing Lent. I thought it was pretty straightforward, as every church (and denomination) that I have attended has always observed Lent. Not so, but apparently more and more Protestant denominations have begun observing Lent.
What is Lent?
Lent lasts 40 days and is observed as a time of reflection on our lives, repentance from our sins, and prayer as we prepare for Easter.
It originally started about 300 years after Jesus’ death as a time period for new Christians that were preparing to be baptized at Easter.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends anywhere from Good Friday to Easter Sunday (depending on your denomination.
Fasting at Lent
Sundays were not counted in the 40 days of preparation because fasting was forbidden on Sundays. While fasting was a normal part of the Jewish religious practice, in early church history, the fasting only lasted a few days. As the 40 day fast evolved, it included one evening meal and eventually, its practice became more and more relaxed.
What is universal is that it is intended to imitate Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
It has now commonly been replaced by “fasting” from behaviors or food.
What to Give Up for Lent
If we choose to “give up” something for Lent, it should cause us to focus on what earthly comforts/habits keep us from worship, prayer, and a life lived for God.
It should remind us that we are trying to live more like Jesus, and not because we want to lose weight or stop an unhealthy habit. Sometimes it’s good to say “no” to your desires/wants. If this is one way to help practice self-discipline, then that’s a good thing.
Fighting that temptation to indulge in something we enjoy can remind us to focus instead on our spiritual health.
Things to Do for Lent
Besides fasting, another way of observing Lent is to search for new ways to serve.
As we focus on Jesus’ life and ministry, we see his love and kindness to the sick, the poor, and the lonely. In Matthew 25: 35-40, Jesus tells us that when we feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite strangers into our homes, give the naked clothing, care for the sick and visit those in prison, it is the equivalent to doing it to him.
How can you use the 40 days of Lent to jumpstart a way to join him in his work?
A different way of observing Lent might be adding something instead of giving up.
•Find a new devotional on Lent- your church might have suggestions, or there are many online too.
•Reading (or re-reading) a book with a focus on Jesus’ life and ministry is a great option. This year I’m going to reread “Six Hours One Friday” by Max Lucado. (The reason I’m telling you this is because last year I planned to read it at Lent but did not. So you all are keeping me accountable!)
There are lots of options out there. And feel free to let me know what you decide if it helps you be accountable! You’ll be in good company.
Couldn’t we all use a bit more time of serious self-examination and reflection in our lives? Lent is the perfect time to do this.
As we go through Lent and Holy Week, our focus should be on gaining a deeper understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice, and what our response to that sacrifice looks like.
A prayerful reading of what Jesus actually went through for you and I should give us a desire to repent and turn away from the sins that we commit.
I came across a verse that I am going to use this Lenten season to do just that- Psalm 139: 23-24- “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
God is faithful. If we honestly ask him to show us what areas in our lives we are falling short and confess what sins we seem to be holding onto, He will forgive us and help us to change.
Make the practice of observing Lent this year one of coming closer to God, whether it is in giving things up or taking things on.
“Come near to God, and he will come near to you.”-James 4:8.
That’s a great place to be in the next 40 days.
Related Post∼ From Dust to Dust
Photo Credit: AnnMarie Anderson
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.