I started observing Lent a few years ago. I was looking for a way to dwell in the Easter season and focus on the good news and celebration of Easter Sunday.

I had no idea what I was doing. Growing up in a Southern Baptist home and church, we didn’t observe Lent. I needed to do some research.

What I found was that the evangelical church does not have a set Lenten practice. Even the Catholic church has a variety of ways they observe, depending upon the branch of Catholicism and the individual church and person. I read articles and listened to sermons and found out the ways of observing Lent are as many as the people who observe it.

However, there are three elements that are almost always part of Lent: prayer, giving something up, and giving something back.

Prayer. The reason for Lent is Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins. Lenten season is a time set aside to focus more on prayer and your relationship with God, leading up to the celebration of Easter at the end.

Giving something up. Lent also has an element of fasting. It is a way to unite with Christ’s sacrifice on a much smaller scale. Throughout church history, there have been different ways of fasting and different elements to that. Most evangelicals observing Lent choose something that would be a sacrifice for them to do without. There are those who refrain from chocolate, Facebook, lunch, caffeine, television, music during commutes, meat, etc.

Giving something back. We imitate Christ’s gift to us by giving to others over and above our usual tithe during Lenten season. Many times giving something back is directly tied to giving something up. For example, some will take the time they would have spent watching TV and volunteer in their community. Others take money they would have spent on lunch or coffee and give it to organizations feeding the hungry or providing water. Blood:Water Mission has a program set up during this time to do exactly that. You pledge how much you would have spent on one cup of coffee (or a Coke) during the 40 days of Lenten season and give that money to their mission of building wells in Zambia.

In the years I’ve observed Lent, I’ve found it to be a sacrifice worth making. It hasn’t been easy (doing without something you enjoy isn’t fun!), but it has been a time of growth in my relationship with Christ. Easter Sunday was all the more sweet and celebratory because of the time I’d spent in prayer, fasting, and giving back. I recommend trying it out this season.

Lent begins March 5 and goes until Easter Sunday. Many people break their fast on Sundays, treating them as “mini-Easters,” or smaller celebrations of Christ, making 40 total days of fasting and observance.

Do you observe Lent? What has the season taught you? How do you use your fast to give back to others?

Elizabeth Hyndman is a production editor at LifeWay. Read more from Elizabeth at edhyndman.com and keep up with her on Twitter @edhyndman.

Comments

  1. Yes, I observe Lent. I try to spend more time in prayer. My dh and I look for additional ways to give back, typically with an extra gift through World Vision and ministries we support locally. This year instead of fasting from something I’m spending additional time in the Word by adding reading through the Gospels to my daily time of study.

    I’m looking forward to taking the next six weeks focused on Jesus teachings and selfless example, and thanking Him for the gift of eternal life.

  2. I grew up in the Lutheran church, which has several synods, that vary widely on some theology, but most of which DO observe Lent. As adult, I go to a Wesleyan church, which does not observe Lent. I do not think there is a right or wrong, and I have had friends say, “Well….it’s not biblical.” I am not going to argue that, particularly to the extent that it is NOT required. On the flip side, components of Lent — the whole “40 days,” fasting, etc. — arguably have some biblical precedence. Having said ALL that — while I do not observe Lent formally as part of my church, I still do observe it in my own way, as an adult. I have considered the arguments, and the season is not something I choose to overlook. I find it a season of reverence and acute holiness and beauty. It pulls me in, as I intentionally think on a DAILY basis of the sacrifice that was made FOR ME, during this season. I think the act of sacrifice or fasting makes us “lean” into GoD, and doing so has a powerful impact. Besides, at the end of all this is EASTER — the Resurrection — the Overcoming — the Glory of our King — all the goodness and mercy. Observing the season of sacrifice beforehand makes the morning all the brighter.

    • Jolee, I feel the same way. Lent is not required of us by any means, but I have chosen to participate because it brings me closer to Jesus. And, like you said, it makes the celebration of Easter even fuller! Thanks for reading!

  3. Stephanie McCreight says:

    I do observe Lent and have been for quite a few years, it started when a co-worker of mine explained what Lent meant to her in the Catholic Religion. I gave up Chocolate, coffee and any caffeinated product, people thought I was nuts, but I thought, if Jesus could give up his LIFE for us, I could surely give up coffee and such. And I never looked back, this year though, I have started going back to church after 8 years, I have let Jesus back into my heart, so coffee and chocolate seem very trivial. I realize that it starts today, but I want to give up something that doesn’t truly matter but has taken a front seat to God. I will have to pray to find out what it is and look forward to doing something meaningful (to me) in this season of Lent.

    • Stephanie, I love the idea of giving up something that has taken a front seat to God. That is definitely something I look at when I decide what to give up each year. What am I using as a comfort or what am I turning to instead of Jesus? Praying you find your meaningful thing and this season of Lent will draw you closer than ever to Jesus! Thank you for reading.

  4. I observe it and have raised my children to as well. Not in a legalistic manner but much in the way you speak of and that Jolee (earlier reply) does. I have taught my children and my church members (I pastor two churches) about using this time as a spiritual direction leading to transformation in our own lives. We have friends that speak of following it legalistically and gloat over no meat on Fridays. Yet go to the all-you-can-eat fishery with hoards of food and alcohol (I’m not taking a stance on alcohol here). I just cannot believe that the disciplines that lead to transformation as laid out by our spiritual forefathers intended fasting one thing only to binge on another. Lent is actually my favorite season of the Christian calendar and I find great joy in opening myself up to purged and realigned. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Thank you for reading, Tress! It is definitely a temptation to replace the things we give up with other things. We just have to fight to replace those things with Jesus. That’s why I love the giving up to give principle. It reminds me to replace what I’m sacrificing with more sacrifice, instead of other comforts or rules.

  5. As the daughter & wife of Southern Baptist ministers, Lent was always something other denominations did as a ritual. My adult daughter became interested in Lent & what it meant to her spiritual life a couple of years ago. She asked me to join her & it has been a very meaningful time for both of us. The first year, we participated the in the water fast sponsored by Blood Water Mission. It was a time of not only denying ourselves of all the drink options we normally enjoyed, but also focusing on giving to others who do not even have clean water to drink. Last year, she was facing a major life decision & her “fasting” involved having no contact with the other person involved in the decision except on Sundays so she could focus on God & His will in her life. While I didn’t “fast” from anything, I spent the time seeking God with her. It was a growing time for both of us as we saw God work in amazing ways in her life. This year she & her husband are spending the time seeking God about their future. More major decisions are coming. I’m focusing on my personal relationship with God & my “temple” & what needs to be done so present it to Him as “living sacrifice”. If you look at Lent as a ritual, it has no meaning. If you look at what it can do in your spiritual life, it can be a very significant time of the year!

    • Deborah, that is a very cool thing to do alongside your daughter! I love the idea of focusing on specific things in your walk with God during the Lenten season. That keeps the focus on Jesus, which is what Lent is all about! Thank you for reading!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Want more about Lent? Here’s a great post about Lent from Mars Hill: http://theresurgence.com/2014/03/05/10-ideas-for-keeping-lent And another from one of my best friends, Elizabeth: http://blog.lifeway.com/womenallaccess/2014/03/03/what-lent-taught-me-about-myself/#.UxeMKRbfbS9 […]

  2. […] Want more about Lent? Here’s a great post about Lent from Mars Hill: http://theresurgence.com/2014/03/05/10-ideas-for-keeping-lent And another from one of my best friends, Elizabeth: http://blog.lifeway.com/womenallaccess/2014/03/03/what-lent-taught-me-about-myself/#.UxeMKRbfbS9 […]

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