Adhering to the Lenten season isn’t something I grew up with because it was thought of as a “religious tradition” that wasn’t necessary. I grew up and am still protestant and concepts of religion that requires certain acts was always thought to be “under the law” or “legalistic”. So in my adult years, do I now think it is necessary as a follower of Christ? No. Is it beneficial? Yes. So with that being said, allow me to explain why I now adhere to basic tradition of Lent and encourage you, as a following of Jesus Christ, to do the same.
Traditionally, lent has a wide range of applicable actions such as ashes on the forehead, no meat on Fridays, one day a week of complete abstinence, giving of alms during this time . . . etc. I’m not here to debate the validity of any of those external actions. But from my study of this tradition, let me simply say this,
Lent is a season where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting or sacrifice in order to grow closer to God.
Now after reading that, some may cynically ask, how does giving up soda or chocolate draw me closer to God? Well, that in and of itself doesn’t. People who drink soda or eat chocolate every other day of the year are not sinning which is what separates us from God. So how is the lack of that action drawing us closer to God? To understand this, we must understand the basis of why lent has become a tradition. You see, beginning Wednesday of this week, February 10th, we begin the Lenten season, which is 40 days prior to Easter. This represents the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness. In case you’re doing the math, there are 46 days from February 10th until March 27th (Easter Sunday) but realize Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent.
So, given that brief history of Lent, allow me to explain why it’s a good thing. The act of fasting at any time of the year isn’t an action that, by itself, brings us closer to God. In reality, those who do not eat for 1 day, 3 days or even up to 40 days may follow the accepted protocol of fasting but if you don’t spend that time reflecting, praying, reading the bible . . . etc. you are pretty much on a temporary diet plan. But yet, Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “When you fast . . .” giving the reader the understanding that it is expected of me. The benefit of any fast is what we do in accompaniment with the external sacrifice. One may fast for the salvation of a wayward friend. Others may fast for specific direction in their life. Regardless of your motivation, the connection with God one way or another must be part of the process. When I was a child, I remember hearing teaching such as this . . . when you fast a meal, take the time you would usually be eating to pray. While the practicality of that is valid, fasting is not a formula of removing one thing to insert another. The reality is we should pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17) so even if designating a prayer time during lunch will always be beneficial, it is not an item to check off on a list of daily obligations. The same can be said about Lent. Following the tradition without applying other actions is simply an exercise in discipline. But once you attach times of reflection, prayer and bible reading, this becomes a spiritual discipline.
Throughout the next 2 days, I would encourage you to ask God what you should give up (sacrifice) for Lent. Over the years, I’ve laid aside a variety of things that I felt led to do so at the given time. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong thing to fast. I would encourage you to take time when you’re reminded of what you’re sacrificing to pray and reflect. Simply put, we have certain habits and when that pattern is interrupted, we take notice. If you fast a certain meal, it could be your body saying, “hey, it’s time to eat” or if you give up television, it could be your mind say, “hey, it’s time to chill and watch the tube”. (Okay I guess I’m showing my age a little with that last response) Regardless, your body will remind you of the pattern you’ve disrupted. Take time at that moment to pray and seek God. In the end, the purpose you do any spiritual discipline is to draw closer to God. Lent can be a time on the calendar that you put this specific discipline into practice.
For some practical purposes, I want to show you what is common for people to give up during times of Lent in our culture based upon Twitter reports of 2015.
- Foods (sweets, chips)
- Technology (social media)
- Swearing, being mean
All of those disciplines are very good. But we could expand the list to be more specific at times. For example, some may cut out social media altogether. But social media isn’t always a bad thing. Often the issues that need to be dealt with are what we post on social media. We all experience challenges in our life, but how we respond to that can please or displease God. In our culture we use social media to voice every response we have to opinions, situations and circumstances. So now we can publically tear one another down, complaining about this or that rather than blessing and encouraging one another. I could give example after example of this but I’m sure you could as well.
As I wrap up, you may read this and feel, this is all just legalism. That’s okay, then don’t do it. Some times we neglect solid traditions in the name of “not being legalistic”. This becomes legalistic when I demand or expect you follow it. I’m not doing that. Simply suggesting. If you don’t adhere to any of the disciplines of Lent, I want to encourage you to find another way to express spiritual disciplines in your life because it is beneficial, I promise.
Click here for a much more detailed, yet simple understanding of Lent.