Some dismiss Lent as a Catholic tradition, irrelevant to those practicing a Protestant faith.
They deem it a meaningless ritual and wave off the idea, claiming that observing this season on the church calendar is unnecessary or even trivial.
I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve made a practice of observing Lent for nearly all of my life as a follower of Christ. The way I’ve participated in it has varied from year to year: sometimes I have fasted from a favorite food for the duration, other times I’ve abstained from all food for one day each week. Still other years I’ve taken a less traditional approach and banished TV or social media, or added a daily spiritual discipline. But each year my heart’s intentions remain the same. Here are just three of the reasons I find observing Lent — in whatever fashion — a meaningful and worthwhile practice.
To prepare my heart for Easter.
December whips by in a harried frenzy and I often find myself spiritually unprepared to appreciate and savor the birth of our Lord. Although the days leading up to Easter aren’t as cluttered with commercial trappings as they are at Christmas, I find that observing Lent sensitizes me again to the profound gift offered to me on the cross at Calvary. The weight of the crucifixion and the hope of the resurrection. The soil of my heart is cultivated to receive this truth afresh as I tune my heart to it through Lent. I see Him more clearly through less-rosy lenses. And if there’s anything I want, it’s to see Him and know Him better.
To appreciate the sacrifice and cultivate gratitude.
The practice of fasting, in any form, reacquaints me with sacrifice. My abstention from chocolate for six weeks (for example) will never compare with the death of God’s own Son. I wouldn’t pretend it could. But even voluntarily forgoing such a comparably insignificant item (of any kind) drives me back to the cross in appreciation for His sacrifice. The absence of whatever it is I’ve surrendered is a practical yet spiritual tool to remind myself of all He has done for me. I am much more quickly given to thanksgiving during my daily prayer and throughout the whole of my days during Lent.
To identify with the Body for which He was broken.
As a Christian in the modern American church, I have been trained in the doctrine that Jesus died for my sins. Indeed, He did. Our God is personal; He made us each and knows us intimately. Yet our culture of “rugged individualism” has infiltrated the church and too often we apply promises made to God’s people corporately to ourselves as individuals. (Check out the context behind Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28, which I also wrote about here.) The purpose of the Body, and the Church, is to glorify God. I read passages like Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:9,10, Colossians 3:14-16 and Acts 20:28 and I see how profoundly God wants us to be knit together, building one another up and bringing Him glory together. No, we shouldn’t draw attention to our fasting for the purposes of garnering adulation from others (Matthew 6:16-18). I think there’s a big difference between making a show of our good works and participating in them together for His glory. By observing Lent in the context of community, I have found a deeper awareness of, and greater love for, the Body, the Bride, the Church.
So, yes, I observe Lent. For these reasons and more.
When I peel back the outer layers of ritual, I find Him there.
Lent begins Wednesday, March 5. How about you? What are your reasons for observing Lent this year… or not? What have been the meaningful ways you’ve done so? Share your stories with us in the comments.