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Lenten Devotional: Day 2—What is Lent?

On Day 2 of Lent, I think it would be a good idea to discuss what Lent actually is, and why I think you should join us on this spiritual journey towards the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The other day a co-worker, who knows that I am a minister, asked why I observed Lent because “you’re not Catholic, are you?” Where I come from, most protestants don’t observe religious feasts or holy days apart from Good Friday, Easter, & Christmas. So, it’s a fair question.

Lent, from the Old English word for “spring”, refers to the 40 days preceding Easter during which Christians of all backgrounds devote themselves to Christ through 3 different types of spiritual exercises. Those are fasting, giving to the poor, and committing more time to spiritual exercises. This started very early in Church history as the time in which new Christians would fast from food in preparation for their baptism on Easter Sunday. Irenaeus, in the 2nd century, records the fast as being no more than 2 or 3 days.

By the early 300’s, that time had grown to 40 days. Throughout the Bible, the number 40 is significant: 40 days and nights of rain for Noah, 40 years of wandering for Israel, and perhaps the most significant, the fasting and temptation of Jesus for 40 days.

In the west, most protestants don’t fast as the early church did, often giving up a meal a day or perhaps a habit or item that is overly relied on. The idea isn’t to somehow merit God’s blessing, but to 1, deny oneself something, 2, rely on the Lord instead of that particular comfort, and 3, use the time or money spent on that which is given up to grow closer to Christ and do His work.

For example, I know people who give up purchasing coffee from the coffee shop. They will then donate the money they would have spent over those 40 days to a Christian cause, such as a missionary or a food pantry. They will also seek to lessen their dependence on caffeine and strengthen their reliance on God,

So if you’d like to join me in observing Lent as a spiritual exercise, here are 3 simple ways to do that:

  1. Find a Way to Deny Yourself. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Maybe for you, this means social media, or binge-watching, or giving up sweets. The idea here is to sacrifice something, to build up a spiritual discipline of telling yourself “no”.
  2. Commit to Daily Time With the Lord. We should be doing this anyway, but now is a good time to start. If you do this already, try mixing it up a little bit like by also reading the Gospels over the next 40 days, or by reading a book on Spiritual Formation.
  3. Daily Examine Your Spiritual Life. Look, we’re not perfect. I’m not asking you to dwell on your imperfections. However, I am encouraging you to look carefully at your life. The psalmist prays “Search me oh God and know my heart.” See where you’re growing in Christ and thank Him for doing that. Repent of shortcomings and ask for the Holy Spirit to do a work of healing and revival in your heart. Ask the Lord to see people and things the way He does.

Lent is not prescribed in the Bible, so it’s understandable that some would object to its observance as a man-made tradition that isn’t needed. By and large, I would agree with that. I don’t believe that observing Lent is something that all Christians must do, or even should do. But I do find it fitting with the teaching of Jesus and his disciples that we should take time to examine ourselves, to repent of where we have strayed from Christ, and to commit ourselves anew to His Kingdom.

Together, over the next several weeks, let us, led by the Spirit, grow in Jesus Christ

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