I love holidays. I like that there is a specific day each year devoted to remembering and celebrating something or someone significant. MLK Day helps us reflect on the life and work of a very important person in our nation’s history. Memorial Day helps us reflect and remember soldiers who payed the price for our nation’s freedom. Thanksgiving Day helps us remember and reflect on all the blessings we have received from the Lord.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I especially love Christmas and Easter. These holidays are the most important holidays of the year for Christians because these days are dedicated to remembering and celebrating the most significant story of all (the Gospel) and the most significant person of all (Jesus Christ). At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’s coming. At Easter, we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection.
These holidays are the most important holidays of the year for Christians because these days are dedicated to remembering and celebrating the most significant story of all and the most significant person of all.
Historically, Christians have not only celebrated these specific days, but also the seasons that precede them. Before Christmas, there is the Advent season. And before Easter, there is the Lenten season. This Wednesday (2/14/18) is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.
If you’re anything like me, you weren’t brought up and discipled in a tradition that observed Lent. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Lent until a couple of years ago when I began seminary at Beeson Divinity School (BDS). Because BDS is interdenominational, I get to take classes with students and learn under faculty from several different denominations, many of which annually observe Lent.
So around this time each year, I learn a bit more about Lent, and each year I grow to appreciate its meaning and significance. I’m thankful for my Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and other friends and professors who have taught me about the importance of this season and have helped me understand why we Baptists would do well to observe Lent too.
If you are unfamiliar with Lent, it is a season of forty days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday (the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday). These forty days are meant to represent the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, where he fasted, prayed and endured temptation, before beginning his ministry.
During the forty days of Lent, Christians around the world take time to repent, and abstain from certain foods or physical pleasures. Lent is a season dedicated to self-examination, reflection, and repentance. It’s a special season meant for us to focus intently on our relationship with God by giving up certain things in order to imitate Jesus’s forty day fast in the wilderness. Its a season dedicated to preparing our hearts for Easter.
Lent is a season dedicated to self-examination, reflection, and repentance.
Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “What can I do specifically to observe Lent this year?” Let me offer three things you can do to participate.
We can fast in a number of different ways. Its not necessary that we completely give up eating until Easter. Rather, we go without something important to us for the forty days of Lent to draw our attention to our need for God. This may or may not be food.
The important thing is not necessarily what you give up for Lent, but instead why you give it up. Ultimately, we should choose to give up something that would be difficult for us to go without in order to remind ourselves of our dependence on God.
The important thing is not necessarily what you give up for Lent, but instead why you give it up.
Of course as Christians are always supposed to pray. We are told by the apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing.” But for these forty days, when we pray, perhaps we could devote more of our attention toward our dependence upon God and our need for God’s grace. Perhaps, during this season we can focus on specific areas of our lives where we long to be more sanctified. And certainly, we use our fasting as a prompt to pray. Whenever we think about what it is that we have laid aside during Lent, we should use this as an invitation to cry out to God.
As Christians, we know that what God gives us isn’t meant for us to keep to ourselves but to share with others. As Christians, we know that we should follow the example of Jesus who gave up what was rightfully his in order to serve us (Philippians 2:1-8).
Depending on what you decide to go without during this Lenten season, perhaps you could give that something to someone who would benefit from, or appreciate that something. If you are giving up movie watching, maybe you could buy a movie gift card for someone else. If you are giving up social media, maybe you could spend that time that you would be on social media serving others instead.
By intentionally practicing these three disciplines over the next forty days, we will become more mindful of the ways that God has blessed us and has provided us with more than we could ever need. We will also become more aware of the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us, by giving up his life so that we could truly live. This will allow us to better prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday, when we will rejoice and celebrate the fact that Christ has defeated death and has accomplished our salvation.