What is "Lent?" You've probably heard someone say, "I'm going to give up _ for Lent." Even if you understand what Lent is, you may still wonder what the point is. Is Lent just like a faith-based New Years' resolution? Or is Lent something God tells us to do? As someone who's never practiced Lent, I had a few questions, and I've learned more than I expected. Let's look at some of the answers I discovered!
Lent is 40 days (not counting Sundays), starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter. Ash Wednesday is a solemn day that marks the beginning of a season of repentance in preparation for celebrating Jesus' resurrection.
The word "Lent" comes from the Old English word, "lencten," which referred to springtime. Early Christians believed that they should fast for 40 days like Jesus did, out of obedience to observe the remembrance of His death and resurrection. Through the years, Lent has expanded into a broader tradition that varies by church and individual, but its purpose remains the same. When we repent and mourn our sin, we acknowledge the weight of Jesus's gift of salvation.
To understand any topic, it's a good idea to start with its origins. So, where did Lent begin? It's hard to pinpoint when exactly the tradition of Lent began, but we can see similar practices in the Bible. In Matthew 4, Jesus goes into the wilderness and fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. Many people consider this the basis for Lent to honor God through sacrifice. There are also other times where the Bible mentions fasting to show repentance. We can gather biblical reasons to celebrate Lent; however, it's important to note that Lent is not mentioned in the Bible, and fasting (or similar sacrifices) is not something God tells us we have to do.
Ultimately, only you can discern if you should participate in Lent. It's not something we should do out of obligation but with a reverent heart. If you think you need to do certain things to earn God's favor, that can distract from an authentic relationship with Him. So ask yourself what your purpose for Lent would be. If you have certain habits in mind, what is the context? If you want to start working out to lose weight or need to give up food that's bad for your health, those things may be more general self-improvement goals than Lent candidates. While everything we do should point to God, including how we treat our physical and mental health, Lent is a time to give specific intention to our closeness to Jesus. Before you decide to give something up for Lent, open your heart to where God wants to work in you. If you aren't ready for that step, God will be there as you move forward, and you can set goals at your own pace.Lent is not about shame; it is about repentance. Jesus died to redeem us, and His resurrection gives us the hope of renewal. The right reason to observe Lent is why we do many spiritual practices, such as saying specific prayers or doing devotional journals. We shouldn't do those things to be "better" in God's eyes; we do them to focus our minds and souls on God. The purpose of Lent is to seek awareness of our dependence on God and to resist the temptations of our distractions.
In the early history of Lent, the point was to give up certain foods, or even most foods. Nowadays, the most confusing part of Lent is deciding how to observe it. To make it simpler, let's look at the three main goals of Lent.PrayerPrayer should be our first step before we begin any spiritual practice. When you open your heart to God, you will be more in tune with the areas He wants to reach you. One thing to consider is, what habits get in the way of your attitude toward prayer? Ask God to give you humility and help you see what temptations distract you and what can bring you closer to Him. As you proceed through the Lent season, continue to go to God with your repentance, sorrow, anger, and joy.FastingYou can choose to fast from certain foods or use the concept in another part of your life. People often fast from meat, dairy products, alcohol, or coffee because of their rich and addictive natures. Many other things in our lives can be addicting, such as tv, social media, shopping, or gossip. Some people even give up necessities like warm showers, pillows, or eating utensils. You can also replace a habit with another one that draws your attention to God. Here are a few ideas:Memorize a Bible passage every day.Say something inspiring to every person you greet.Attend additional church services or worship events throughout the week.Spend time confessing to God at the end of every day.Listen to worship music every time you drive.Appreciate nature and God's creation for 30 minutes every day.You don't have to choose something obvious; your challenges and ways you connect with God are unique.AlmsgivingAlmsgiving is the act of giving donations or serving people in need. Giving is a central part of our calling, and we should prioritize it year-round, but Lent season is an opportunity to focus on giving more than we usually do or can. You can donate money to a church, give extra clothes or items to a homeless shelter, or volunteer all your extra time. It doesn't matter how much you have; Jesus tells us that giving is about having a selfless heart, not a fat wallet.The Bible tells us not to pray, fast, or give for the glory of others. Whether or not you practice Lent, your faith is not about your works; it is about your relationship with Jesus. That relationship is personal, and your behavior will never determine how much God loves you. God's Word tells us how to follow Him, and it tells us the most important truth: That when we fail, Jesus gives us a new beginning.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.