It is difficult for some to understand that their Christian heritage goes back further than their denominational history. The church has a long history of traditions in its worship of Christ. Lent is one of those traditions. Historically, Lent has not been observed by evangelicals, but in recent years it has been rediscovered as a meaningful discipline to be practiced.
In the Baptist heritage where my theological framework has been shaped, Lent has been mostly misunderstood or a completely forgotten practice. This does not mean Lent cannot be a valuable spiritual practice for us today.
Though the Scriptures do not mention the practice of Lent, it has been a longstanding tradition practiced by Christians. The first account in church history where we see Lent mentioned was in the Second Festal letter written by Athanasius in 330 A.D. Since that time many followers of Christ from numerous denominational backgrounds have observed this season of fasting. Lent is not a spiritual tradition owned by a particular brand of the church, it belongs to all Christians who would want to volunarily participate.
A common misunderstanding that clouds the meaning and intent of Lent in some evangelical circles is the idea in bestows or provides a saving grace to the person participating. Another way of saying this is Lent is seen as a work that provides salvation
As an orthodox Christian I do not believe salvation can be earned though any moral effort or religious ritual. The grace of salvation is a free gift provided thorough the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross and appropriated through personal faith. So, I do not look to Lent for a sense of personal redemption, but as an act of worship celebrating the redemptive works of Christ for me.
As worshippers of Jesus we need to disciple ourselves to stay spiritually fit. One of the most important ways we can stay fit is to take the time to fast. Fasting is an unique discipline to rid ourselves of the competing worldly influences that challenge our love for Christ. So Lent should be seen as an aid in strengthening our relationship with Jesus?
The primary purpose of lent is to prepare us spiritually for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter. The better one prepares the better one celebrates in worship of the risen Savior. Historically, lent has been a 40 day season of fasting starting on Ash Wednesday and ending the Saturday before Easter. Sundays traditionally have been excluded as fast days because they are seen as celebratory mini Easters. This leaves us with the 40 days to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and preparing for his public ministry. There are several key elements of focus associated with Lent fasting for spiritual growth. I will give you three to consider.
As a follower of Jesus we are to surrender our desires and will for God’s desire and will for our lives. This is a constant struggle for most of us because our nature is self seeking. Jesus tells us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23 NLT). And “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 NLT).
Self-denial is a spiritual focus that does not come naturally. So, spending time in prayer and fasting can help us rejuvenate our devotion to Christ.
Repentance is not a one and done kind of thing. Sin is a constant battle that demands severe measures of warfare on our part. The more we grow in the depth of God’s grace the more we see the filthiness of our hearts. When sin is revealed in our hearts we are to immediately repent and move in a new direction. Lent provides a time where we can slow down and allow God’s spirit to work in our hearts to reveal and cleanse us of any sin that may be lurking. Jeremiah the prophet said, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who knows really how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Simplicity of life has become a foreign concept it todays society. We have become wealthier and healthier, more socially connected, but not less stressed. Life is fast paced and filled with to do lists to conquer and days without enough hours. Work has become more demanding and our needs greater. For most, life has become marginless. It’s ironic the most technologically advanced society in history is also the most stressed. Lent can provide you a time to retreat by fasting from the things that control you and to refocus on the one who controls all things. Jesus instructs us in the sermon on the mount to, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:33, 34 NLT). Slowing down and simplifying our lives is a sign of maturing faith.
Surrendering or giving up things up is the core element of fasting. Giving up meat or all food has historically been the main theme of fasting. Our thinking could and most likely should become more broad in the things we would be willing to sacrifice for our times of fasting. As stated earlier there are many things that compete against Christ for our time and heart. You can come up with your own list but here are a few suggestions.
The list can go on and on, but I would suggest something you view as a personal sacrifice. We can’t be flippant about such a sacred discipline. I can remember when I was younger saying and hearing such things as fasting from cleaning your room or any other responsibility we wanted to be free of. A true fast is to give up something that is of personal value, but is seen as no value at all compared to the glory of Christ.
I also want to suggest to you its not just about what you give up. But about adding the scriptures and prayer to your daily routine during lent. Without these you are practicing dead religion. Lent is not about religion but relationship with God.