Many of us don’t exactly know what to do when the season of Lent comes around each year. Some of our friends and family are talking about what they plan to give up. Others are adamantly explaining to us why Christians don’t need to celebrate Lent at all. And then, of course, there are those making jokes about how they just want it to be Mardi Gras all year long.

So, what is Lent anyway, and should I observe it or not?

Lent is the 40-day season of the church calendar that leads up to Easter Sunday. It begins next week with Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter Sunday (or on Maundy Thursday in some traditions). The period of time is representative of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). During that time, Jesus fasted from food for 40 days and 40 nights. It was a time of testing and preparation for Him before He began His earthly ministry with His disciples.

The observation of Lent began as early as the third century as a serious time of self-examination and penitence — including fasting — to prepare one’s self to celebrate Easter. Over the centuries, though, denominations have observed the season so differently that there is now a wide variety in the intensity and importance of Lent depending on the kind of church or denomination.

So, is Lent something we should observe? Well, it all depends on how we understand our relationship with God.

Some people feel like they have to observe Lent because they have lived sinfully and need to make up for it by giving up something drastic to show God they are sorry. Others feel like it’s a way to get God to pay closer attention to them; the more drastic their fast, then the more impressed God will be and pay attention to whatever they are asking for. Others feel like God will be angry with them if they don’t give up something for Lent, so they give something up thinking it will keep God happy.

The truth is, what we do (or don’t do) for Lent doesn’t directly affect our relationship with God. The peace we enjoy with God is not something that we have because of what we have done, but by what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus. His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave guarantees the forgiveness of our sins and His everlasting love for us. Nothing we do could make Him love us more or less — no matter how drastic (or ascetic) our devotion.

However, there are still many people who know and understand that Lent doesn’t do anything to improve their relationship with God, but they still choose to observe a fast anyway. They find it to be a helpful discipline for their ever-wandering hearts. They see it as an opportunity to train their hearts away from the worldly things that it’s been taught to crave and towards faithful reliance upon God instead.

Often times, we don’t realize how wayward our hearts have been until we go without something for a long period of time; especially food. Fasting is a test for our hearts. It reveals what is truly most important to us and what we depend upon for hope when times are difficult.

So, if you would like to observe Lent this year, here are a few steps you can take to help you think through what your observance could look like (and whether or not you should):

  • First, you need to be honest with yourself about why you would do a fast for Lent. Are you trying to get on God’s good side? Hoping others will be impressed with you? Spend some time praying and asking the Lord to help you discern your motives.
  • Next, ask yourself this question: “When life gets difficult or stressful, what are some worldly comforts I turn to in order to relax, escape, or find hope?” Here are some common examples: junk food, television/movies, exercise, video games, alcohol, etc.
  • Then, ask yourself: “What practice would I rather my heart turn to instead?”
  • Here’s an example: “I’m pretty sure I escape stress by watching Netflix every night. I’d like to spend some time in prayer about it instead. So, instead of putting my kids to bed and going straight for the TV, I am going to fast from watching my show to spend that time in prayer instead.”

There is no biblical command for Christians to observe Lent. And no amount of fasting can bring right relationship with God. However, changing what we do for a period of 40 days can certainly help train our ever-wandering hearts away from worldly cravings and remind us that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

 

Matt Lantz 

 

 

Saddle Up!: CCBC Pops Orchestra Concert
This Friday, Feb. 21
7:30 p.m.
Sanctuary at the Fort Worth Campus

Looking for the best show in town? This Friday, Feb. 21, our own CCBC Pops Orchestra is performing famous Western scores in a dazzling musical roundup called “Saddle Up!” There will be a campfire sing-along, movie clips, a fun photo op and more. Invite friends and join us this Friday!

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