Lent: the What and the Why
by Steve Caton
The practice of Lent was ‘born’ in a fascinating time. In the 3rd Century, Christianity was squelched and on the fringe, being held and observed by people hiding in deserts working to preserve a simple and holy life modeled after Christ and His ways. God used this group exiled on the fringe to wrestle with important issues of theology and refine the practices of Jesus, setting the stage for Christianity to reenter accepted practice in the 4th Century, primarily through the professing Emperor Constantine. It’s commonly agreed that the observance of Lent began during the reign of Constantine, shortly after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, (out of which also came important writings and theology.) Hence, Lent became an early part of the fabric of 4th century Christian rhythms.
Since then, Lent has been refined and ridiculed. Some say it promotes a works-based salvation by earning God’s favor through the giving up of earthly enjoyments, others say it helps us reset our desire on Jesus rather than earthly things. Like all practices, they are only good to the extent that they sharpen our conversation with God and form our hearts. Lent is a period of 40 days patterned after Jesus’ time in the wilderness when He fasted to prepare Himself for great obedience to the Father and set His affections above. At its simplest, Lent is a time to: become more aware of our affections, to set those affections aright, to reacquaint ourselves with the sacrifices Jesus made through fasting and simple living and prepare for the great Eternal provision we celebrate on Easter.
There is nothing spiritual about giving up something for Lent. It is all in what giving up something may do for our conversation with God and how it can form our hearts. Lent practices should deepen our desire for God and lead us to worship, acquainting ourselves with Jesus deep sacrifice for us. So, consider this season: is there something you might give up, that, every time you desire it, you could pray that God would fuel your desire for Him much more than you want this piece of chocolate or dessert or glass of wine, etc. Or something that, every time it’s hard to pass up that enjoyment you choose to praise God for the great sacrifices made by Jesus on our behalf. You could even be more progressive, preserving the intent of Lent by reversing the routine and ADDING something to your life. Like an extra 10 minutes of prayer each morning/evening, or even something as simple as drinking more water and, every time you do, praying that God would teach you to thirst for him and bring spiritual health as you bring physical health to your body. So, if you do choose to do something to observe Lent, remember that the focus is not the specific thing you choose to add or subtract, but how it is impacting your prayer conversation with the Lord and your appreciation of the sacrifices Jesus made for us. What might you give up or add this Lent that could do this?
(Little tidbit – have you ever wondered why Lent starts on a Wednesday?… Early Christians argued that you should not fast and observe Jesus’ death on Sundays because these were resurrection days and meant to focus on celebrating His life that brings us life. So, in order to fast for 40 days excluding Sundays, Lent needed to be 46 days long allowing for celebration on Sundays. So, if you do give up something, it doesn’t need to be on Sundays! How could a weekly celebration on Sunday augment and sharpen your Lent experience of giving up or adding something on the other 40 days?)
- Lent for Leaders: With God in the Wilderness (Transforming Center Podcast)
- 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Feast by Alicia Britt Chole