So what is Lent? Simply put, it is a time of spiritual preparation. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and goes until the day before Easter. The word lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means ‘spring’ and also relates to the number 40. Lent is the 40 days of preparation for Easter.
Forty is a significant number throughout the Bible. In the great flood it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and led his people through the wilderness for 40 years. The prophet Jonah foretold that an unrepentant city of Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days and the prophet Elijah journeyed for 40 days to Mt. Horeb where God spoke to him in a still small voice. And in the New Testament, Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness for prayer and fasting and following his resurrection he spent 40 days with his disciples prior to his ascension. So Lent was determined to be 40 days of spiritual preparation. But actually if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter there are 47 days because Sundays are feast days set apart for worship, so they are not included in the numbering of the days of Lent.
In order to really experience Easter you have to go through Lent. Lent is intended to be a time of reflection and repentance so that later when Easter arrives then it is a time of resurrection and rejoicing.
How to use this time of Lent
So what are you supposed to be doing during this time of Lent that makes it so important? It is to be a holy and sacred time, a time set apart to examine your own life and to draw closer to God.
During Lent, Christians are encouraged to focus their energy on three primary disciplines: prayer, fasting and almsgiving (or sharing our gifts with the poor). The extra time spent in prayer during Lent can lead us closer to God and we are encouraged to focus our prayers on the places in our lives and in our world that need improvement.
Most often when people think of Lent they think about giving up something. (For years I have given up chocolate during Lent and so I find it incredibly cruel that the Girl Scouts always deliver their cookies around this time of year.) But the fasting isn’t about denying ourselves as a sort of punishment, and it isn’t even about food. We can fast from television, food, video games, computers, and other simple everyday indulgences so that we can instead hunger for God. Often the reason people will give up something is so that when they desire it that they remember to spend time with God. And for some individuals instead of giving up something during Lent, they pick-up something during that time which will draw them closer to God, such as an extra time doing devotions or meditation or studying the Bible.
And then the third part which we are encouraged to do, besides prayer and fasting, is almsgiving or giving to those in need. Maybe we skip one meal each week and give the money that we would have spent to the Mission or those in need. Hopefully, during this time we become more aware of how we have been blessed and realize how important it is to give in order to care for others.
But it is important to understand that we do not do any of these spiritual disciplines, such as prayer or fasting or giving, just so we can say that we did them as if they were something that we could just check-off of our list. Instead, the intention is to transform us.
It is intended to be a time of introspection where we look at ourselves and say, “What am I doing with my life?” Am I living it the way Christ would want me to live? Who am I? Who have I become? Am I living my life according to God’s Word? And if we see those areas that need to be changed, that we take action. Scriptures warns us not to be “like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).” Instead we need to grow as Christians as we see those areas where we are lacking.
Lent is a time to realize where we have sinned and in doing so realize how hopeless our lives would be without Christ dying so that our sins are forgiven. In that, we recognize how desperate we are for God and his saving mercies.
Lent is also a time to realize who God really is and that it is about Him not us. Over and over in the Bible there is the phrase “I am the Lord” as God reminds us who he is. I was reading in Leviticus the other day and was amazed at how many times that phrase was used. God would give a commandment or a decree and then would follow it by saying “I am the Lord.” In one chapter that sentence was said 15 times. It was as if he was reminding us “pay attention to who is giving you this instruction, take it seriously – because I am the Lord.”
It made me think – maybe we need to hear that reminder in our own lives. We say we know who God is and that he is the Lord of our lives. But then we go on and do whatever we want to do. Maybe as we go through our day we need to hear God’s voice over and over saying “I am the Lord!” So that instead of constantly seeing things from our point of view and doing whatever pleases us that we would remember to really live our lives for God.
Lent is a time to recognize our sinful nature and to realize that we cannot live a Christian life without God. We have to realize our own failures and hopelessness during Lent so that we can really grasp what Christ’s sacrifice on the cross really means for us. His death was payment for our sins. And his resurrection is victory over sin and death.
Easter has more meaning because we realize how much we need Christ. If we never took time to look at our lives and our sinful nature and our desperate condition, then we would not comprehend the incredible gift we are given by Christ’s death and resurrection. You have to know where you came from in order to really comprehend where you are and what a blessing it is to have Christ in your life. So I pray that for each of us that we may use this time of Lent as a chance to truly prepare our hearts so that we can fully grasp what Christ has done for us. Amen.