Lent season begins in two days, with the observance of Ash Wednesday on March 2nd. And I’m really looking forward to it.
Up until recently, Lent was not a big deal for me. In fact, I thought of it as more of a religious distraction to the Christian faith. Being raised a Protestant Christian and strongly influenced by serving at a Baptist church much of my life, the observance of Lent was seen as a “catholic” or “ritually legalistic” practice. I did not consider it necessary or even helpful to evangelical Christian faith. To me, Lent was when a bunch of people would give up something – like eating meat or chocolate or potato chips – to gain favor with God. Or it was a way for uber-religious people to show off their piety of how committed they were to God.
And while some people do observe Lent for those reasons (which I still believe are wrong), that’s really not what Lent is all about.
Over the past ten years, I’ve “changed my tune” about Lent as I’ve learned more about the dynamics of Christian discipleship and the true purpose for this season.
Lent (which comes from the Old English word for the “Spring season”: Lencten) is the 40 day period before Easter (minus the Sundays). Lent practices have been observed since very early times (2nd Century AD), as a preparation period for new converts to examine their commitment to Christ before their baptism on Easter Sunday – inspired by the model of Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13).
Lent is one of several seasons of the Christian calendar, beginning with Advent (December), Christmastide (late December), followed by Epiphany (January), Lent (early Spring), Eastertide (mid-Spring to late-Spring), Pentecost (late May) and Ordinary Time (June-November).
What is important to realize is that the church calendar is not only based on events in the life of Christ, but they represent important themes, perspectives and pursuits of Christian discipleship. For example, Advent focuses on the sense of expectation in waiting for God. This is a powerful discipleship practice that helps us to persevere when the promise or deliverance of God has not yet come.
The purpose for Lent is to remind us of the practice of “returning to God.” The Biblical word for this is repentance: the turning around from the ways of the world to the ways of God. This, too, is a powerful spiritual practice that we will use throughout our journey; not just one time event. Lent is a time of reflection that allows us to get re-centered on God and following the way of Jesus. It is also a time where, upon this reflection, we turn away from the deadening habits that cause our lives to shrink (sin, attitudes, useless wastes of time/energy, etc.) and to press into new habits and rhythms to create more awareness and connection with God and true life. It’s really about returning to our Source of life: God.
Author and Teacher on Spiritual Formation, Ruth Haley Barton, shares that Lent is where we ask ourselves the question, “Where in my life have I gotten away from God, and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?”
Here are five disciplines and attitudes that help me find my way back to God and press into the new life He calls me to during the Lenten season:
1. Being ruthlessly honest before God. If there’s anything I’ve learned over my life, it’s that honesty is always the best approach to life, and especially before God. While He knows everything about me, I still need to be willing to let go of my ego, pride and anything else that wants to conceal those things that need to be exposed.
2. Allowing God to search my heart. While there are some obvious obstacles that I’ve set between myself and God (see #1), there is so much underneath the surface that I can’t see: attitudes and habits that are second nature, wounds and resentments that I’ve buried deep within me. I ask the Holy Spirit to expose these things and bring them to the surface so that I can deal with them with His grace and power.
3. Express my longing for God. The reason why I want my sins, faults and brokenness exposed and dealt with is because I desire to know God deeper and more intimately. He is my life, my light and my salvation. In Him, I am perfectly loved and known. As I express this to Him from my heart, I also gain the wherewithal to move away from my false self and embrace more of the life He has for me.
4. Detaching myself from those things that have led me away from God. It is one thing to expose, confess and repent from the darkness I’ve embraced. It is another thing to move away from those environments, mechanisms and relationships that empower these dark tendencies. It’s kind of like overcoming alcoholism: it’s one thing to stop drinking. It’s another thing to not walk by the bar or the liquor store. Both are needed to become free to walk in the Light.
5. Allow myself to experience God’s faithful love for me in deeper ways. When I am able, with the power of Christ, to rid myself of darkness, there is a vacuum left behind. As Jesus taught in Matt. 12:43-45, when we rid ourselves of darkness we need to fill it with Light, lest the darkness comes back seven times worse (my interpretation). So, I lean into the spiritual rhythms (prayer, Sabbath, Scripture, taking care of my body, etc.) that help me connect with God and position me to receive His faithful love, as well becoming a conduit to share His life and love with others.
So, Lent is an important season for me. By becoming more intentional in returning to God through the removal of darkness and stepping more in the Light, I am reminded to constantly keep close to Him in my everyday ordinary worship.
– What are some of your thoughts about Lent?
– How is God inviting you to go deeper with Him?
– What obstacles are in the way of you having a closer relationship with Christ?
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