By Jessica Van Roekel, Crosswalk.com
As a child, all I knew about Lent was from a classmate who said they ate fish on Fridays. I wondered what fish had to do with Fridays, but I was too embarrassed to ask.
I thought it had something to do with Easter, but the fish confused me. Easter was candy, egg hunts, and frilly new dresses for church where we warbled “up from the grave he arose”. In my young mind, understanding Lent took a backseat to the celebration of Easter.
As a young adult, friends would tell me that they were giving up chocolate, movies, or red meat for Lent. I still didn’t have a full understanding. I took it to mean that it reminded them of their weaknesses and their need to depend on Jesus.
Later I learned that Lent is the forty-day period of penitence leading up to Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday. It’s a reminder to pray and focus on spiritual matters.
The Purpose of Lent
Although I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that observed Lent, it is a wonderful part of the Church calendar. I researched and grew to love the purpose of Lent. The purpose of Lent is a period of time to remember Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness and to remember our need for penitence. I like to use this period of time to develop a spiritual practice that strengthens my faith in Christ.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline and the main focus for those who practice Lent. We give up something to gain something in return. Fasting helps us to remember our dependence on God. Fasting breaks chains and sets us free. Fasting honors God and causes us to remember what Jesus did for us. It leads us to find nourishment in God, and it’s one of several spiritual disciplines.
What to Do Instead of Giving Something Up
The other spiritual practices are to study, worship, pray, fellowship, confession, and surrender. What if instead of giving something up, we added these activities into our day. The spiritual practices grow our faith in the Lord. They challenge us to depend on him.
They will reveal our need to repent and to cling to God for strength. In the remaining days till Easter, rotate through each one.
1. Study the Bible
Read this article for tips on how to study the Bible. Use a special journal or notebook for the period of Lent. Each year add to it as you study these passages. Write your prayers and thoughts. Watch how God uses this time to grow your faith.
2. Worship God
We worship God with how we live our lives and how we respond to him. Add worship music that glorifies God to your day.
Take a moment before you get out of bed and as you lie down at night to praise and adore God for who he is. Use the sunrises and sunsets to pause and thank him for the beauty he made.
Find someplace or someone to serve. Worship is more than praising God with music, it’s living a life that honors him.
Prayer is the gift of communication between us and the Lord. It’s where we pour out our hearts to him and listen for his response.
Paul tells us not to be anxious but to pray. Anxiety becomes like a needle on a record playing the same piece of music. Oftentimes we don’t even know we’re stuck in a loop until a day or two have passed and we find the furrows in our brow growing ever deeper.
Pray without ceasing means we begin our day conversing back and forth with the Lord. We let our thoughts run along a conversation with him. We speak and listen. We bring our irritations and our joys to him. He soothes our ruffled spirits and celebrates our wins.
4. Fellowship with Others
God created us for community. Community is the mutual care and ministry in the body of Christ. We need one another for encouragement and for sharpening. I know in the days of COVID-19, in-person get-togethers are challenging. That’s when we get creative.
Video and phone calls, text messages, and smart distanced in-person meetings are ways to practice fellowship.
In a world that treats personal failure with such contempt, confession is scary. Rejection ensues. Cancelling prevails. So, we hide our sins.
But God says that if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful to forgive us. And forgiveness is so freeing. He doesn’t treat us as the world does. He is merciful and kind. He leads us to repentance and then his grace changes us.
This Lent, try confessing your sins to the Lord and let his word wash you clean.
In surrender, we humble ourselves to God and accept his authority in our lives. In a position of surrender, we accept accountability for how we live.
In surrender we find our paths made straight, which is counterintuitive to the world’s way of living. When we say “yes” to God, we give him our hopes and dreams; fears and failures and live with a trusting heart.
Sometimes it seems like we surrender our worries every five minutes but wrestling through to surrender brings us peace.
Opportunities to Rely on God’s Strength
When I focus on one or more of these spiritual disciplines, I see how difficult it is for me to do this in my own strength. I see how often I mess up and need his grace to cover me and empower me to walk in his ways. I know how often my tone cuts like a knife. I know how often I entertain thoughts of revenge. I know how often my faith is weak.
I see it every morning and every night when I look in the mirror. I need Jesus like I need air.
Lent is a time of remembering our sorrow for our sin and remembering our need for Christ’s atonement. Practicing these spiritual disciplines throughout Lent draws us into further dependence on Jesus’ strength for our lives.
We can give up something for Lent or we can choose to rotate through these spiritual practices in these final weeks leading up to Easter. Both foster a reminder to pray and focus on Jesus.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash
Jessica Van Roekel is a worship leader, speaker, and writer who writes at www.welcomegrace.com sharing hope-filled inspiration addressing internal hurts in the light of God’s transforming grace. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future. Jessica lives in rural Iowa with her husband and family. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.