“God does not need Lent, but we do” these are the words in the opening paragraph of the Lenten resources of the General Synod of the Anglican church. It describes Lent as a period of waiting and preparation for Easter. The document says, “the rhythm of fast and feast taps into some elemental need of ours, where denial creates longings to be satisfied so that we come to deeper appreciation of God’s great gifts”. These words capture why lent is important in our spiritual walk with God.
In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says that he turns to the Lord God in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes. Ashes have become a symbol of turning to God in humility, acknowledging our need for God’s grace. Lent should remind us of God’s grace; Lent is not a season of earning God’s favour, we can’t be good enough, but it is about returning with humility to our reliance on God’s grace and mercy.
Perhaps you don’t come from a tradition or belief system that observed the season of Lent. In my childhood, we would not only observe Lent but give up something for Lent. As a child, I remember heading to the fish and chip shop during Lent to line up for our fish with crowds of other Christians. It would be fair to say that as a child the observance of Lent was more cultural than spiritual. Yet I have come to realise that this cultural legacy can easily turn into spiritual disciplines that draw me deeper into my relationship with God.
So, if you want a fresh perspective on the season of Lent or you want to understand this season for the first time here are three things to remember for Lent:
- Giving up or Taking up – the focus of many people during the season of Lent is giving up something for 40 days. Perhaps you need to give up something that you enjoy as a trigger to reminder you to pray or read the bible. Giving up something for Lent should not be about giving up something that is bad for you or bad behaviour that you should have already given up. Giving up swearing for Lent is not the point of Lenten disciplines. The Lenten disciplines are meant to be spiritual exercises that draw you closer to God. Reading, writing and reflecting are all good practices that we can do at any time of the year, but perhaps during Lent you could take up these spiritual exercises or disciplines with renewed focus. Acts of generosity are also traditional during Lent where people might give up buying something so they have extra money to give to missions or ministry. Whether you give up something or you take up something focus on how it will draw you closer to God, not the activity itself.
- Private disciplines – In Matthew 6:16 Jesus encourages us not to show off about our spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines should not draw attention to yourself and your sense of piety. These spiritual exercises should not be held over other people to make you look better than them. Lent should not be something that makes you crumpy and difficult to be around. It is like the person who gives up coffee for Lent and everyone around them wishes they would just have a coffee. The spiritual disciplines that you practice during Lent are between you and God. You might choose an accountability partner who supports you during the season of Lent, this is useful and helpful. But Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that when we fast and pray in secret our Father in heaven will reward us. This reward is surely closeness to God rather than any earthly treasure.
- Sharing the Good News – the subtle thing to remember is that our spiritual disciplines may be observed by others which then present an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others. For example if you are pausing at a set time every day for prayer this might be obvious to others and they ask you what you are doing. Whilst we don’t wish to draw attention to ourselves if someone askes what we are doing then we can draw attention to God. We can use the opportunity to talk to people about the hope we have in Jesus. We don’t have to deny that we are involved in Lent if someone asks us. So, if someone asks me what I am doing for Lent then I’ll tell them that I’m writing in a Lenten journal that our church has produces and can give them a copy if they want one.
In some circles of Christians Lent seems to have gone out of fashion, I understand their point of view. Some people say we celebrate the resurrection and God’s grace every day, which is true. However I think that the standard of living in our society today is higher than many people experience during their periods of feasting. We could all use some balance in fasting and feasting and perhaps Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this rhythm.
In finishing read these words from the Anglican Prayer book:
So, by self-examination and repentance,
By prayer and fasting,
By self-denial and acts of generosity
And by reading and meditating on the word of God
Let us keep a holy Lent.
Please leave a comment on how you observe the season of Lent.
markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, Mark McDonald