When it comes to the Christian practice of Lent, I consider myself about as much of an expert as a kindergartner in calculus. I grew up in a non-denominational, contemporary Christian church right in the middle of the Bible belt. Although Easter was a highlight of our holiday year, Lent was not. In fact, to my knowledge, lint was that fuzz you pull out of the dryer when your laundry is done. And a lint-en practice was faithfully cleaning the filter after each load. I confess I attempted to wipe a friend’s forehead clean on Ash Wednesday more than once. I thought they smudged their makeup, not attended a church service. Like I said, a kindergartner.
All laughter aside, I celebrated decades of Easters without Lent, and I was no worse for wear for its absence. Easters were happy occasions in our family. After waking up and finding hidden plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and foil-covered chocolate eggs, we dressed in our Easter finery, and drove to our church where we announced “He is risen!” and sang hymns like “Because He Lives” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns” with gusto and in four-part harmony. An hour or so later, we floated out of the church, our souls filled with the Good News and our bellies ready to be filled with the feast my mom prepared at home.
As I matured, both physically and spiritually, I noticed a growing hunger for something different, something more sober and sacred. Although Easter held plenty of celebration, it lacked slow reflection. Easter holds tremendous implications for the believer and seeker. And yet, when it occupies only a single day in our calendar year, the significance is easily swallowed up in the day’s activity. It is difficult to give more than a head nod to Jesus’ sacrifice and our salvation in a one-hour church service on a Sunday morning.
Learning more about Lent
That’s when I began to dig into the meaning of Lent, its rich history, purpose, and practice. The more I learned, the more I longed to add a Lenten practice to my Easter celebrations. Whether it is due to my age, my experience, or my growing awareness of my deep need for saving, I don’t want to miss the significance of my need or the cost my Father paid to meet it.
I’m not the only one. Many Christians worldwide spend the six weeks before Easter by observing Lent. Although predominantly a Catholic and Orthodox practice, Christians of all denominations can and do observe Lent in an effort to prepare the heart, mind, and body for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Dating back to at least the fourth century and known as Tessarakosti in Greek and Quadragesima in Latin, “the Forty”, Lent is marked on the liturgical calendar beginning on Ash Wednesday and culminating the Saturday before Easter. This equates to a total of forty days, not including Sundays.
What are the practices of Lent?
Although Lenten practices vary depending on denomination and congregation, it generally includes three primary areas of focus:
- Prayer: Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Christians spend intentional time in prayer considering our desperate need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are sinful, broken, separated from God, and completely unable to save ourselves. Our condition is terminal, our need great.
- Fasting: Traditionally, Lent involves fasting from all meat for forty days (fish is permitted). Others have modified the fasting observance to allow each individual to choose the item from which they will fast. For example, I have a friend who chose to fast from french fries during lent, one of her favorite foods. Regardless of the details of the fast, the purpose is to allow the hunger pangs of personal sacrifice to stoke our memory of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
- Giving: After admitting our deep need for rescue and acknowledging Jesus’ sacrifice to save us, we must respond to God’s mercy and grace by offering the same to others. That is why many use the season of Lent to do acts of charity or serve those in need. Mercy received becomes mercy given.
Lent is a season of reflection, confession, and service, all leading toward Easter, that glorious day when God, once and for all, made it possible for sinful humanity to have full access to Him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Regardless of your Lenten experience or lack thereof, now is a time to deepen your own faith as well as the faith of those around. And the forty days of Lent is a beautiful time to do just that. You may choose to follow an orthodox practice or create your own practice. The “how” doesn’t matter as much as the “why.” Lent is a time to remember our dire human condition, our utter lostness and inability to save ourselves. And then to celebrate the One who gave it all to rescue us from it.
How can I use this Lenten Devotional?
With this in mind, I carefully chose passages from my book, A Faith That Will Not Fail, to provide a complete Lenten Experience for you. If you find this experience helpful you might want to check out the full book, which includes many more meditations to guide you as you draw closer to the cross. For now, as you walk through the next six weeks of prayer, fasting, and giving, read one of the meditations per week, allowing the story, scripture, and reflection to enrich your Lenten Practice and point you closer to your Savior.
I've also recorded audio devotionals that you can use weekly to compliment each devotion.