I can’t take credit for this, but it regards what I was going to blog about. It also has some extra points that I encourage you to think and pray about.
P.S.- I’m giving up Facebook for Lent. Not because it’s just something to give up. It’s a very controlling portion of my life that needs some major alterations. To contact me, call/text/email or write me a letter. I prefer the latter above the rest.
In Defense of Lent (Updated)
As a Protestant evangelical from a non-liturgical tradition, I grew up with the assumption that Lent was some ultra-legalistic nonessential that Catholics imposed upon themselves during the Pascal season to appear more spiritual. Perhaps you aren’t as harsh and immature as I was, but evangelicals typically categorize Lent as an irrelevant practice – something that is only “external religion.”
Over the last few years, however, I have come to realize that I had gross misconceptions of what Lent actually is, and I now believe it can be a great spiritual practice for Christians when put in its proper context.
Lent, which is a word that simply means “spring,” is the forty days (not counting the Sundays) leading up to Easter. The forty days represent Jesus’ suffering and temptation in the wilderness before his public ministry began, and each Sunday during the Lent season is representative of Easter – the day that Christ rose from the dead conquering sin and death. Traditionally, Lent has been a time of Christian introspection and penitence.
We often hear of people “giving up” something for Lent, such as chocolate or sodas (Honestly? Usually as an effort to lose weight). This practice in self-control has some benefit to the believer, but this is really not what Lent is about. The purpose of Lent is to make space in the sanctuary of the heart. By consciously removing one thing in our life, we make room for the Lord by devoting that time to reflection, meditation, Scripture reading, and prayer. As we make space for the Lord to speak into our lives, we find ourselves in a repentant state. Sin is uncovered in our lives, and we are exposed to ourselves in the presence of God’s holiness.
Depressing? Not really. Because this season of fasting and repentance leads up to Easter – the day when Christians rejoice that their Savior has defeated sin and Satan and death. He is risen!
So here are some reasons why I think observing Lent is a beneficial spiritual practice for us today:
1) Our church culture’s obsessions with Easter bunnies, baby chicks, egg hunts, and getting a new outfit has separated us from the profound message of Easter. These things are not bad; we will have egg hunts with our kids this year. But they have become a distraction, and Lent can help us refocus our attention on the crucified and risen Christ. Lent is a long-term celebration and longing for the resurrection – which, if you’ll remember, is where all our hopes are fixed.
2) We are a very busy and noisy people who have a great need for silence, reflection, and prayer. We need to make this space in our lives so that we can reorient ourselves back toward the cross. We are always going somewhere and we always have things to do. Even when we sit still, we usually have a television or a radio on, or we’re bending over the computer. We have short attention spans, and we demand to be entertained. Lent helps us die to that part of ourselves by challenging us to remove distractions and spend time each day in quiet communion with the Lord.
3) The American Church generally shies away from discipline in any form – ask nearly any Christian you know and they will confirm that they struggle with discipline. We scoff at memorizing Scripture because it is hard, our Scripture reading is sporadic, our times of prayer are short and distracted. Lent can be of great benefit to us undisciplined saints because it teaches us a little of the discipline we so desperately need.
What can we remove from our lives to make some space this Lent?
1) Abstaining from certain foods (meat, desserts, sodas, etc.) can be beneficial in that it makes us conscious of our food choices (which may need to be changed permanently anyway). We eat at least three times a day, so we are constantly reminded of Lent. We might take time to pray before each meal or during its preparation. When it is difficult to abstain from a beloved food, we pray to see how man does not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God. In some Christian traditions, money saved on food during fasting was often given to the poor or used to provide a meal for a hungry person.
2) We can abstain from social networking sites that often steal our time – Facebook, Twitter, or blogging. We can give up text messaging or chatting on the phone, Netflix or TV. Time devoted to these can be replaced with reflection, Scripture reading, and prayer.
3) We can give up certain hobbies that take our time – biking, scrapbooking, web designing, or whatever.
Rachel Held Evans has compiled a fantastic list of Lenten practices here. Look through it to get some ideas!
I have known people to “give up” things that they should not have been participating in anyway for Lent, only to take them back up at Easter. Or there is the infamous Mardi Gras, which is a pagan celebration where people sin as much as they can before they have to “give it up” for Lent. Lent is a great time to give up vices, but if you are planning on returning to sinful practices at Easter, then don’t bother. Easter celebrates Jesus’ victory over sin; you are celebrating your enslavement to it.
One final thing that I love about Lent – every Sunday is like a mini-resurrection day. When we have given up meat, we celebrated the Resurrection on Sunday by eating meat. When we have given up desserts, we would make a cake or go out for ice cream, praising Jesus for rising from the dead. We spend time in worship and in reflection.
Lent is often used as a meaningless time of external ritual. But it can be a truly spiritual time of fasting, discipline, and worship. It teaches us to look forward to the Resurrection.
Lent begins February 22nd – this Wednesday. How can you redeem this time?