I was intrigued to read a post Christianity Today published last week based on some research conducted by Lifeway Research. It revealed 24% of Americans observe Lent, the greater majority Catholics. Interestingly, 82% of Catholics who regularly attend Church are likely to observe it while only 30% of Protestants who regularly attend church will.
The stats didn’t surprise me. I’d love to see comparable ones for Australia as I expect they’d been even lower. I’m the only person in my circle that observes it and it’s not mentioned in my church community.
So why bother with it?
I only adopted the practice in recent years having lacked understanding of what it was about. I grew up believing it was something Catholics observed and as I wasn’t Catholic it didn’t apply to me.
As I’ve come to better understand the practice I now eagerly look forward to it. Before I explain why let’s start with a recap of the basics.
What is Lent?
Lent derives its structure and themes from Christ’s forty days’ in the wilderness, where He fasted and prayed and faced Satan’s temptations. As most of us know this period occurred before His public ministry began. It commences with Ash Wednesday, which this year happens to be a Wednesday, March 1st. It’s typically six weeks in duration (some denominations calculate it differently) and ends with Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
I particularly love Ann Voskamp’s description in a post that I read a few years ago. Ann’s chatting to her brother on the phone answering his question:
“Okay … Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”
So it’s the letting go of our stuff, whatever that may be, so we can seek God with greater intensity.
“’And yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart …’” (Joel 2:12)
“The purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden ‘ thirst and hunger’ for communion with God.”1
This is my desire: to experience that communion with God.
Longing for God
We observe Lent so we would become more aware of our longing for God in order to see Him with all of our hearts. We adopt certain disciplines, eg, fasting, to help us see more clearly the patterns of sin and/or distraction that have weakened our passion for Him or created some distance from God.
Season of Hope
As we journey through the six weeks and draw closer to Holy Week and the Jesus at the Cross and His subsequent resurrection we can sometimes feel burdened by these Lenten disciplines. But the journey is full of such hope as we are reminded of God’s great and everlasting love for us. “In the shadow of Christ’s cross and impending resurrection we are assured that there is forgiveness and cleansing for all who turn to Him.”2 Our relationship with the Father has been restored.
What am I doing for Lent?
I usually do a few things and this year I’ll be doing:
- Giving up: chocolate, FB and Instagram. And fast one day each week.
- Bible study: He/She Reads Truth Lenten study on Isaiah. Very excited about this one.
- Reading: Walk in Her Sandals and Liz Curtis Higgs The Women of Easter.
“He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
John the Baptist spoke those words acknowledging that it was time for people to focus on Jesus rather than himself. He had played his part and fulfilled the prophecy. It was now time for Jesus. I’ve found it’s a great verse to head into Lent with. Letting go of ourselves to allow more room for Jesus.
I’ll be posting each week over the next few weeks reflecting on some of the Lenten disciplines as well as my journey. I hope you’ll join me.
I read lots of different things and I expect will come across many good items on Lent so I will endeavour to share some of these to add to our understanding and open our eyes to more of Jesus. Ruth Haley Barton is a favourite of mine and I just read her introductory post on the season. I encourage you to give it a read you have a few spare moments.
What are your thoughts on Lent and do you have any plans for this season?
Notes: 1. Great Lent, Alexander Schmemann, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974. Page 31. 2. Lent: A Season of Returning, Ruth Haley Barton, Transforming Center, 2013, Ash Wednesday.