Why Celebrate Lent?
Today is Mardi Gras! For some that means nothing. For those of us in New Orleans, it means the end of Festival season, a time to eat King Cake, enjoy parades, and spend time with friends and family. If you are familiar with the liturgical or church calendar, you also know that tomorrow begins the season of Lent. While some consider Lent to be something only Roman Catholics participate in, Lent is actually a season that the Christian church has been practicing for some time. In the early church, pastors called their people to seasons of fasting, prayer, and giving to mature them in their faith. This call often coincided with catechism, or a period of training newly converted individuals would go through prior to their baptism. The church was also known to pray and fast prior to Easter. These traditions culminated into the season of Lent which became an official season of the church during the reign of Emperor Constantine who made Christianity a legal religion and later the religion of the Roman Empire.
1700 years later Christians still participate in Lent. For many Protestant Christians, however, Lent is looked upon with suspicion because of its ties to Roman Catholicism. When properly understood, Lent can be a very practical and spiritually nourishing period.
So, why celebrate Lent? Perhaps you’ve grown up participating in Lent or maybe this is the first you’ve heard of it. I want to encourage you to celebrate Lent this year. Why? Because the season of Lent is an opportunity to turn toward the Lord, humble ourselves, and pursue him. Will you celebrate Lent this year?
How Will You Celebrate Lent?
I want to encourage you to celebrate Lent in four ways:
1. Fast. The Lent season is often known for fasting. Fasting is defined as “a Christians’ voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” Many also fast not only from food but other items they rely on and enjoy, like technology. We fast for several reasons, including: to strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23), to seek God’s guidance (Acts 14:23), to express grief (2 Samuel 1:11-12), to seek deliverance and protection (Ezra 8:21-23), to express repentance and return to God (Jonah 3:5-8), to humble oneself before God (Psalm 35:13), to express concern for the work of God (Daniel 9:3), to minister to the needs of others (Isaiah 58:6-7), to overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Matthew 4:1-11), and to express love and worship to God (Luke 2:37).
Not only are there different reasons to fast, there are also different ways to fast. First, there is the partial fast—cutting out part of your diet such as sugar, desserts, alcohol, meat, caffeine, or dairy products. Here you can also cut out the things that distract you like social media, movies, texting, etc. With the partial fast, you will remove whatever element you choose from your life for 6 days. On Sunday, because it is the Lord’s Day, you can choose to break from your fast and thank the Lord for his provision. There is also the whole fast—skipping entire meals for a short period of time. Here you might choose to fast on certain days of the week during Lent. Instead of fasting for an entire day, you might skip a meal once a week. For the whole fast, you might want to consider fasting on Good Friday.
Above all, remember why you are fasting. Think back to the reasons just mentioned for fasting. During Lent, we should fast to humble ourselves before God, express repentance over our sin, and place our trust in the Lord alone.
2. Pray. One of the greatest means of communication the Lord has given us is prayer. We should never get over the incredible blessing we have in prayer. The season of Lent should be an intentional time focused on prayer. If you pray often, I would encourage you to increase your prayers during Lent. If you don’t pray, begin to pray. The focus should not be on whether you have prayed but on communing with the Lord. Carve out time during Lent to put yourself in a setting where you can experience silence and solitude. As you get alone, simply be with the Lord.
3. Be Generous. One element of Lent the church has continued to practice is almsgiving. In our modern world, this means simply to be generous. During Lent find ways to be generous with everything you have. Open your home to more guests, practicing generous hospitality. Make “Blessing Bags” and regularly distribute them to the homeless. Designate an extra financial gift to your church. During Lent remember that the Lord has been incredibly generous to you through the gift of his Son. Fight to be generous with your resources as an act of worship.
4. Meditate on Scripture. During Lent it is important to mediate on Scripture—particularly Scripture’s teaching on sin, God’s goodness, Jesus our response to God and our sin, and the need for the church. The purpose of this devotional is to drive you to Scripture, to mediate on Scripture, and apply it to your life.
Remember why we celebrate Lent. This is not a religious holiday for us to simply go through the motions. This is a 40-day period set aside to abide with Christ. It’s a time for us to immerse ourselves in the love of God. Let’s experience the presence of Christ like never before this Lent season.