“How could God possibly want anyone to give up chocolate for six weeks?”
The question wrestled in my childhood mind. Surely God, in His goodness, wouldn’t want to rob us of the sweet richness of chocolate for forty days. Obviously, my heart had many lessons to learn about Lent. As my faith and understanding grew, the meaning of Lent slowly started sprouting.
But just as I equated Lent with giving up chocolate and flipping a tab on the calendar as a kid, I still find myself falsely placing my understanding of Lent in a devotional, sermon series, or tradition. Even now, the true meaning of Lent becomes tangled up in connotations and questions.
Maybe you, like I was, are confused about what Lent even is. Lent is a season of the church calendar that originated in 325 A.D. It has many roots in Catholic faith, but many evangelical Christian churches observe Lent too. Churches are increasingly incorporating the ancient church calendar, seasons like Lent and Advent, into modern church culture. Lent is typically regarded as a season of repentance, prayer, and sacrifice. Lent certainly isn’t a biblical command, but whether we observe it traditionally or not, it offers a special lesson for us to learn today. So how does a Christian celebrate Lent in today’s culture?
Easter after Easter, Jesus’ nail scarred hands pierce my heart ever-deeper. As faith grows, the beauty and terrible glory of the cross become more clear. His sacrifice feels more painful; His grace seems more amazing. Such a paradoxical, holy message of sacrificial mercy stretches the limitations of my finite understanding. The story of Easter challenges me to prepare my heart for worshipping Christ and remembering His cross.
God doesn’t require us to participate in Lent and there are no strict guidelines outlining how it must be observed. Some people choose to fast or give something up to focus on God, others simply commit to focusing on prayer or reading the Bible to prepare their hearts for the message of Easter. Despite the many ways to observe Lent, the purpose remains the same: Lent is a time of humbly remembering the cross.
When I focus on the price Jesus paid for my freedom, I am overwhelmed by His mercy. Such a sacrifice drives us to repentance and worship. As we focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection through Lent, it allows us to examine our own life. The entire Christian life is a beautiful reflection of Jesus. We live in His footsteps. We surrender to God’s will as Jesus did with blood and tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. We die to ourselves to be reborn in the grace of God, imitating Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. Lent is remembering Christ and reflecting on Christ in us.
Whether we fast or spend hours immersed in prayer, we can never earn God’s favor. Lent is surrender and repentance. Christ died in agony while we were still sinners.
Lent isn’t about the prayers we speak but the One who is always lovingly listening to our broken words. Lent isn’t about the hours we spend reading the Bible but the Author of the living Word. Lent isn’t about giving something up but giving ourselves to God in worship.
When I reflect on what God has taught me since my childhood understanding of Lent, I realize He has been teaching me the same words He told His people long ago:
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. -Hosea 6:6 NLT
Maybe you are fasting from chocolate or soda or Facebook this Lenten season. Maybe you have a fun activity to do with your family. Maybe you have bought a devotional book to read through. None of those things are wrong in themselves. In fact, they allow us with opportunities to experience Christ and worship Him. We just must remember that Lent is solely about loving Christ.
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Lent, let this be a Lent of love. Remember Christ and His cross. Use this special season to repent of the sin that weighs on your heart and rejoice in God’s grace. Let your hearts rest in our desperate need for Jesus, remember His merciful death, and rejoice in the hope of His resurrection.