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Will you be giving something up something for Lent?  If so, will it be a challenge, something you really desire and going without it will be difficult? Or, are you are one of the many Christians who doesn’t observe Lent in that way?  Maybe you don’t observe Lent at all?  And maybe you don’t really understand what it’s all about.

Let’s consider why this time period leading up to Easter Sunday is important in the life of a Christian.  And then let’s answer the question, how should we observe Lent?

What is Lent?

Lent is considered a “season” in the church.  Under the Old Covenant, God prescribed “appointed times” for His people (Leviticus 23:4).  The appointed times were observed by sacrificial offerings and festival celebrations, both of which demonstrated the people’s love for God and their desire to obey His commands.  In addition, the offerings and festivals would direct their thoughts to God and bring to remembrance all that He had done for them and all that He had given to them.

The early church prescribed Lent for a similar purpose.  Lent is an appointed or designated time, a season of preparation. It is very similar to the pre-Christmas season of Advent.  Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day.  Lent begins 40 days before Easter Sunday and is marked by a day the church calls Ash Wednesday (the 40 days of Lent does not include Sundays).

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Historically, Ash Wednesday was a day of fasting, church attendance, and the imposition of ashes.  Not all churches observe Ash Wednesday and many contemporary churches place little or no emphasis on the days of Lent.  Ash Wednesday and Lent are observed primarily in more liturgical denominations, such as Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Anglican, and Roman Catholic. While some do not observe it as a day of fasting, churches that do observe Ash Wednesday hold services and administer ashes.  The ashes are rubbed on the forehead in the sign of the cross, and a traditional liturgy is read, proclaiming “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  These words come from God in Genesis and were repeated by Job, the psalmist, and King Solomon.

Genesis 3:19  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

Job 34:15  All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.

Psalm 104:29  You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

Ecclesiastes 3:20  All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.

The imposition of ashes on the forehead is meant to be a sign and a remembrance of man’s mortality.  God created man (Adam) from the dust of the earth and the physical bodies of all humans will return to dust.

The symbol of the cross, made in ashes on the forehead, has great significance also.  It is a reminder that in Christ we have been redeemed and we are marked, or sealed, as His own (Ephesians 1:13).

What to do about Lent?

We must understand that the Bible does not command us to set aside a time called Lent or to engage in Lenten traditions.  However, observing Lent can be very beneficial to spiritual growth.  Just as Advent is a time in which we anticipate and prepare for our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, Lent is intended to be a time of preparation and anticipation of our remembrance and celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Both Advent and Lent turn our eyes upon Jesus and cause us to reflect on His great love — His love in leaving Heaven and coming to earth to dwell among men and His love of offering Himself to pay for our sins.

Lenten Sacrifice

In addition to being a time of reflection on God, remembrance of what Jesus has done, and preparation for Easter, Lent is also observed by many as a time of spiritual discipline, a time for moderation of fleshly desires. The practice of  “giving up something for Lent,” is meant to be understood as a sacrifice, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting until Resurrection Day (Easter Sunday).  Christians choose something they desire and enjoy and impose self-denial of it for the 40 days of Lent.  Often, that which is given up is a favorite food or activity.  This is meant to create a tangible feeling of sacrifice and self-denial.  The practice also teaches patience and endurance when one is tempted to give in to their desires, but instead chooses to wait until Easter.

Observing Lent

If you decide to give up something for Lent, allow your desire for it to be a “trigger”  — a trigger that will bring to remembrance what Jesus gave up for you.

Perhaps you don’t want to give up something.  That’s okay too.  God won’t love you any less.  His love for you is not contingent on what you do.  Remember that what God wants, more than any “giving-up of things,” is our giving-up of our hearts to Him.  That’s the best way to observe Lent.

Preparing for Easter

During the 40 days of Lent, let’s prepare our hearts to remember Jesus’ last days on earth.  Let’s remember how He taught about God’s will and ways and how He ministered to the people.  Remember who Jesus is and all that He has done (Read: Get Ready for Lent: 40 Titles for 40 Days).

Let’s set our eyes on the journey that Jesus made to the cross. Let’s remember that He gave His life for us.  Jesus went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself.  Remember that God poured out His wrath on Jesus in judgment for our sins.  Jesus was the innocent man,  the sinless Lamb of God, the Saviour who took our place.  As Christians, we have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus  (Revelation 1:5) and we are clothed in His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Therefore, when we stand before the Just Judge we will appear In Christ and we will be found worthy.

Keep Looking to Up

However you choose to observe Lent, let it be a time of deeper reflection on God and a time of thanksgiving and joy.  Be thankful for your Saviour and be joyful in the knowledge that you have eternal life with Him.

We can’t earn more of Jesus’ love by giving up our favorite food or activity, and we won’t lose any of His love if we choose not to do so. But we can enrich our faith, and deepen our love for Jesus, by spending more time in His presence (in prayer) and in His Word.

Lent is about looking forward to what’s coming — Palm Sunday, the days of Holy Week, crucifixion day, and Resurrection Sunday.  Lent is a special time for remembering:

  1. who God is — merciful and gracious
  2. what He has done for you — He sent  His Son to save you; and
  3. who you are in Christ — redeemed, blessed and sealed (marked) as His own.

Just as we look forward to Christmas during Advent, and we look forward to Easter during Lent, may we live our lives looking forward to another glorious day.  Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2) and when we keep our eyes focused on Him, and our hearts devoted to Him, we will live our lives for the joy that is set before us…the glory that is yet to come.

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