The Christian season of Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday. I asked my preacher friends yesterday to explain Lent to me.
"It's a way to get ready for Easter." OK, so, why do we need to get ready for Easter? We ask people all December if they are ready for Christmas. We know what that means. (Have you finished your shopping?) But there is no real shopping to do for Easter, so how do we know if we are ready?
Maybe right now, we should be asking, "Are you ready for Lent?"
What is Lent?
It is a season of about six weeks, leading up to Easter. Technically, it is a 40-day period, not counting Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday, ending on Easter Saturday. In the early church, Lent was a time of preparing new converts for baptism. Today, the faithful are encouraged to change their routines for the purpose of self reflection and spiritual growth. The word "Lent" is related to a German word for springtime.
As my pastor cohort shared with enthusiasm, here are some insights about Lent.
Lent is a time of self-denial.
Many Christians choose to fast during these 40 days. People "fast" from certain foods, habits, or any usual activity, for the purpose of heightened spiritual awareness. You take the time of that activity to turn your heart more to Jesus. When you feel the pinch of the thing you are missing, you try to listen to what God is saying.
Lent reminds us of Jesus' 40-day temptation.
Right after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. There he was tempted by Satan. Of course the devil hit the Lord with his best shots. During Lent, we should notice where we are tempted the most. The devil hits us with his best shots, too, and not just during Lent. When we see where we are tempted, we allow the Lord to turn our lusts and faults into deeper spiritual maturity.
Lent allows us raw honesty.
The whole point of Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is admitting that, yes, we are sinners. We spend a lot of time and effort proving to ourselves and others that we are practically perfect. (And nobody really buys it anyway.) Lent requires us to acknowledge that we are so far from perfect. We need a Savior. We need grace. We need Jesus. It's humbling, maybe humiliating, and we need that.
Lent yields insights into the value of our trials.
We all have sins that we keep returning to. God uses those very struggles to make us more like himself. It is through the struggle with sin that God matures us. As we focus on our own personal struggle with sin, we realize where we would be without the grace of Christ. Ironically, God takes those very things that trip us up, and uses them to build us up--when we confess them, seek his forgiveness, and live through his power.
In Lent, we join with the larger movement of Christ.
All around the world, Christians celebrate the season of Lent. This is something we do together. We share it with our own community of faith and with believers in every continent. We also join in the movement of Christ through the ages. Millions of Christ followers have taken this season to deny themselves and tune in to the Spirit of God.
So I need to get ready for Lent. What will I give up? How will I change my routine so that I tune in to God's voice? I sure need to hear him.
[Special thanks to Leon Morrow, Yvette Morrow, Alan Mears, Ashley Thomas, and Wanda Lancaster for helping to educate me.]