Traditionally, the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is 40 days before Easter in the spring of each year. Ash Wednesday is preceded by Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), or Mardi Gras, which is most often a celebration designed to rid the household of any food made with fat—butter, lard, fatty oils, etc. Some cultures celebrate by making pancakes—in fact, in the U.S., IHOP recognizes this day each year by offering free pancakes for its customers.
The next day, Ash Wednesday, begins the period of Lent. This day is symbolized, particularly in Catholic Churches, by smearing ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday palm branches on your forehead, marking the beginning of a period of fasting and repenting for your sins. It is traditional during these 40 days to give up all foods made with fat, and sometimes even fasting from eating food altogether.
Non-Catholic traditions have embraced this period of fasting by encouraging people to give up certain luxuries or unnecessary indulgences of life during the 40 days of Lent. So how can we deepen our faith and understanding of God through this particular seasonal observation? This study will explore just that.
What is Lent?
Read Romans 3:10-20.
Why 40 days? We see the number 40 appear elsewhere in the Bible as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and as the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. When people smear ashes on their forehead on this day, it signifies repentance, humility and mortality. We know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but ashes on the forehead aren’t meant to display our holiness. It is a display of humility because without Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we come face to face with the reality of death.
The 40 days of Lent are meant to draw believers into a period of introspection, where through fasting and a more intentional effort to read God’s Word, spiritual renewal can take place and sinful, destructive habits can be given up.
Ask yourself: As you embark upon your own journey of renewal, what might be those areas in your life that need attention?
The practice of Lent
Read Isaiah 58:6-12 and Ephesians 6:10-18.
Essentially, Lent consists of practicing three disciplines:
The primary aim of fasting in a spiritual sense is to give up something for a period of time so that you can focus more on God. So, if you choose to fast from food, the time you would normally spend eating would be spent reading the Bible and praying. If you decide to go on a social media or electronics fast, then the copious amount of time spent in those areas would be given over to spiritual disciplines.
Another point of self-examination is to evaluate your prayer life? Do you have one? How can it be made better? How can you use the 40 days of Lent to improve (or start) your prayer life? A lot of people focus on the “giving up” part of Lent, but how about what you could “give back”? If you choose to fast from food or coffee or soda or (fill in the blank), the money you would have spent in consumption could be given to do good. If you spend an average of $3.50 a day at Starbucks, did you know that by the end of Lent you would have saved $140?! How about putting that amount in the offering plate or using it to sponsor a child in need through the Overseas Child Sponsorship Program?
Ask yourself: What can I give up that is keeping me from being fully captivated by Jesus? How can I use the 40 days of Lent to improve (or start) my prayer life?
A Salvationist perspective
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-24.
Three of The Salvation Army’s eleven doctrines can help us better understand the primary goal of Lent:
- Doctrine #5: “We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness; and that in consequence of their fall, all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”
- Doctrine #9: “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon a continued obedient faith in Christ.”
- Doctrine #10: “We believe that it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some might say that Lent is not conducive to continued spiritual growth. After all, what’s the point of reminding ourselves every year how sinful we are? The truth is that although we believe it is our privilege to be wholly sanctified and that Jesus can preserve our body, soul and spirit, our tendency is to need a refresher every once in a while.
The purpose of Lent is to provide the reset we all need to get back on track with our faith. To live a life of continued obedient faith, we need to continue to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12). Growth doesn’t occur if effort isn’t put forth. Without regular exercise and a healthy diet, our physical bodies will get sick. The same principle is true spiritually—without regular spiritual exercise (Bible reading and prayer) and a healthy diet of spiritual nourishment, our souls will become sick.
Ask yourself: Do you do any regular “spiritual exercise”? If so, what does this look like? Are there areas you would like to strengthen?
Read Psalm 119:9-16.
The jury is still out on how long it takes to break old habits and/or form new habits. Research says that it is somewhere between 21 and 60 days for both. That said, Lent can be the ideal opportunity for you to make an intentional effort on both fronts.
Are there habits in your life that are not God-honoring? Why not use the period of Lent to eliminate them from your life. While you’re at it, replace that bad habit with a new, God-honoring habit.
Why not start with Bible reading and prayer? Use the end of Lent—Easter Sunday—to begin the discipline of reading through the Bible in a year. There are all kinds of methods and plans available through Bible reading apps. Choose one and see it through to completion. Or how about Scripture memorization? Select some verses or passages from the Bible that inspire you and try to memorize them?
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we read: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Reset your daily routine. Plan your day with intentional segments of prayer and meditation. Choose what works best for you—morning, noon or evening, or all three! Rather than simply shoot a prayer up before a meal or before you fall asleep, spend some time giving some brain space to what you’ve read in the Bible that day. Give the Holy Spirit space to make the Scripture come alive in your life.
Don’t forget while you’re praying to pray for people that you know—make a list with their names on it. If the opportunity presents itself, let someone know that you’re interceding on their behalf. You never know what that might mean to them if they knew you were praying for them.
Most of all, if you participate in the season of Lent, don’t let it become a hollow practice. Use these elements to deepen your faith in Jesus and through them, your life will be enriched.=
Ask yourself: Are there habits in your life that are not God-honoring? Could you use the period of Lent to eliminate them from your life? Would you be willing to try out any of the ideas from the lesson above? If so, which ones?
Adapted from SAY Connect
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