Whether you are from a tradition that observes Lent I hope you will listen to today’s podcast. In it I give an overview of Lent, but more importantly I talk about how taking 40 days (whether it’s in Lent or not) can formatively change your faith. I’ve personally been adopting a different spiritual discipline during Lent for over ten years and it has been one of the most important times of spiritual growth and renewal each year.
This post isn’t about dropping chocolate for six weeks or only eating fish on Friday. The post is about how select a focus for your faith and a nurturing a significant spiritual habit can transform anyone’s life. Below are some highlights about Lent
What is Lent?
Many Christians both protestant and catholic observe a season called Lent that spans from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Lent is generally a time for Christians to reflect upon Christ’s passion, to repent for sin, and to pray. In some traditions, fasting or giving something up is a norm. It can be a significant time of self-reflection and renewal of faith.
You will hear people speaking about Lent as 40 days, but if you look at a calendar you’ll find there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s because Sundays aren’t counted.
Is it biblical?
No. The bible never mentions the word Lent, Ash Wednesday, or Easter. This is a tradition that has developed over decades and first started in the Catholic church. Lent is widely practice among protestant denominations as well, but, should it be?
Some would say since Lent is not mentioned in the bible; therefore, it is not of God and should therefore not be practiced. The assumption to this mindset is that if something is not mentioned in scripture, then it is automatically contrary to the Word of God and should not be practiced. The mere appearance or absence of a word in scripture though doesn’t automatically make it endorsed or counter to scripture.
I suspect many holding that view have and value traditions in their churches that aren’t mentioned biblically, for example, Sunday School, Family Night Suppers, Women’s Circles, Vacation Bible School, Rally Days, etc. These are all traditions not mentioned in the bible, but nevertheless they can have tremendous value in helping people learn and grow in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Tradition in and of itself is not evil or contrary to the will of God.
The real issue is whether or not a tradition helps us grow in upholding the commandments of God or causes us to break them. This isn’t a new problem. Jesus encountered it with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Let’s look at Mark 7:1-13
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly,a holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.b And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
You see the problem wasn’t that the Pharisees had traditions. The problem was three-fold:
- They taught those traditions as doctrines.
- They ignored the commandments of God, but held to their traditions.
- Their hearts were far from God.
So how might this apply to Lent?
Regarding ‘they taught traditions as doctrines’…
Lent should never be taught as some mandatory doctrine of God. It’s not, but it can be a helpful observance that motivates us to commit to the Lord in greater ways. For example, we could adopt a discipline for forty days of performing daily acts of kindness to our neighbor or reading through a gospel to understand Jesus better.
Regarding“they ignored the commandments of God, but held to their traditions”…
Examine the traditions you keep. Are these helping you honor God? If you decide to adopt a Lenten practice, will what you have in mind honor God and help you be more faithful? For example, the first time I took on a discipline for Lent, I did something that on the surface to many probably appeared to have no spiritual value. I purged forty bags of possessions from my home and office. I did it because I realized my life had become cluttered with excess. Spiritually, I needed to do this to become a better steward and trust God more fully. One year I adopted praying every day for an hour. This transformed and deepened my relationship with God.
Regarding ‘their hearts were far from God’…
Examine your motivation whenever you adopt a discipline, whether it be for Lent or not. Jesus was referencing a scripture from a time when the Israelites were actually doing what God required regarding sacrifice, but God was displeased. Why? Their hearts and actions in so many other areas of life were completely contrary to His will.
So, what is the bottom-line about Lent?
Lent can be a tradition for the sake of tradition, which doesn’t honor God. Or, it can be the catalyst for a significant growth in your faith. The critical difference between the two experiences depends on your intention and your obedience. Is your motivation to draw near to the Lord, grow in your faith, or some other spiritually worthy objective? Are you choosing to commit to actions which will help you walk more faithfully, more obediently?
A Suggestion For This Year…
As mentioned above, I have personally committed to some form of significant spiritual discipline every year for ten years and found it tremendously helpful. Usually, each year I release a pack of a dozen or more hand outs on spiritual disciplines to chose from. If you would like a copy of those disciple go to my Lenten Resource Page. Or this year I am encourage people to take part in…
The 40 Day Gospel Challenge
Read through the four gospels in just forty days. This isn’t an overly burdensome challenge to take on. You only need to read two to three chapters of scripture a day. I am putting together an easy to follow reading schedule for you, plus some supplemental resources to help you have a more profitable time reading the gospels.
Access to those materials will be available shortly. If you would like to receive those resources as soon as they become available, plus encouraging support during your forty day gospel reading challenge, then press the button below.