Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask. Submit your questions related to these topics by filling out the form here! Today’s post is from Vickey Banks on the history of Lent and how we can observe it.
“I’d like us to do something different this year. I’d like us to observe Lent.”
Those were risky words from a fairly new pastor facing our Baptist congregation. Fourteen years later, we’re still observing Lent, and I’m deeply grateful. Here’s what I’ve learned and some thoughts on making this season a truly meaningful experience.
MORE THAN WHAT’S FOR DINNER
In Christianity, Lent is a time of fasting and repentance in the spring, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending several weeks later on Easter. However, it is in focusing on the reason behind this observance, as well as the spirit in which it is offered, that we can elevate what could be a legalistic or self-disciplined exercise into a deeply meaningful and even life-altering experience.
Contemplating our sin, who Jesus is, and the magnitude of what He gave up on the cross is definitely sobering, but Lent is also a season to be lived in anticipation of a glorious reality: Easter’s resurrection day is coming!
The very word “Lent” means spring, literally the lengthening of hours of daylight.1 Think about it—daylight actually lengthens as the month of March welcomes spring. Buds form on trees, dead grass begins to green, and daffodils start poking their sunny yellow heads out of what was winter’s hard, unrelenting ground. It’s as if even nature is about to burst in anticipation, proclaiming, “Wake up! Wake up! Resurrection is coming!”
LONG ESTABLISHED HISTORY
Lent is not mentioned in the Bible but has long been part of the church calendar. Western Christianity’s observance from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday was established by Pope Gregory I (c 540-604).
Lent has typically consisted of a 40 day fast of some sort, modeled after Christ’s 40 day fast in the desert before He began His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11 , Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13), plus six Sundays considered feast days to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
While fasting has traditionally been observed during Lent, how individuals have fasted has changed over the years—including when they fast and what types of food they fast from. Early observers followed very strict guidelines, with restrictions for most lessening as time has passed.
WAYS TO OBSERVE TODAY
Your denomination or church may have established guidelines to follow during Lent, or you may freely choose how you observe this season. If you’re interested in ideas on what to give up or add during this time, here are some suggestions:
Habits and behaviors – Examples include social media, television viewing, shopping, and wasting in-between moments (like waiting on appointments, standing in lines, sitting at stoplights, etc.). Some people use Lent as an opportunity to focus on putting off a specific sin. Focusing on kicking a sin habit for forty days can lead to kicking it for good, which is always our goal. You might commit to putting off gossip, worry, or bad language, for example.
Consider taking the time and money normally used on these things and investing it in increased prayer time for you and/or someone else, personal repentance, focusing on the character of Christ and His sacrifice, evaluating your spiritual health, reviewing Scripture, and giving the money to someone in need.
Favorite foods – Meat, chocolate, sugar, caffeine—just choose something you crave or have often. Thank God for His sacrifice every time you think of that food. If you’re sacrificing a meal every day, you could use that time to read your Bible and pray for the hungry. You could even give the money you’d normally spend on that meal to your church’s food pantry or a homeless ministry.
Spiritual disciplines are a great thing to add, especially in light of making lasting changes past the season of Lent. Options include:
Prayer – Set aside a certain time for prayer each day, increase your existing time in daily prayer, begin journaling your prayers, pray for a special burden, begin each day in thanksgiving and contemplating Christ, end the day confessing your sins to God, and/or set reminders on your cell phone to thank God throughout the day.
Bible Reading – Follow one of the She Reads Truth Lent reading plans, or if you’re reading this article later into the month of March, consider one of the shorter Lent plans on the YouVersion phone app or their computer version at www.bible.com. You can read Old Testament prophecies regarding the suffering of Christ and New Testament accounts of that suffering, or just focus on one of the gospels, like the Book of Mark. You could also jump into LifeWay Women’s Know His Word reading plan for the year.
Other observance ideas include memorizing and meditating on Scripture, serving others in need, and reading or listening to spiritual growth materials.
Because Lent is not in the Bible, we are biblically free to choose whether or not we observe it. But taking an extended season to deeply contemplate what Jesus gave up on the cross for us personally and why He did, combined with depending on God to help us remain faithful to our Lent commitment, has unlimited potential to deepen our appreciation, as well as our anticipation and celebration, of Easter’s resurrection. That’s worth celebrating!
Bible study teacher, author, inspirational speaker and disciple-maker, Vickey is passionate about helping women connect the dots between God’s Word and their everyday lives. She loves serving as Women’s Ministry Director at Council Road, writing for and managing Council Road Women, serving on the Women’s Leadership Forum of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and teaching Young Marrieds with her husband. She can also often be found celebrating her people, playing with her puppy, and getting lost in a good story.