Traditionally, Lent is a period of fasting or giving something up that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. This year, in 2021, it starts tomorrow (Wednesday 17th February). It was, so I read, established as a practice as early as the fourth century. Some people give up chocolate, watching t.v., smoking, drinking, sugar, social media…you get the picture. It is, essentially, a six-week period of self-discipline. But why?
Lent began as a period of time to remember the value of repentance. Back in what we would call the Old Testament, repentance and fasting was common:
Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice.
So I turned my attention to the Lord God to implore him by prayer and requests, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.
Sadly, some nowadays will use the season of Lent to try and earn God’s blessing. Something along the lines of “Well, I’ll give up eating chocolate for six weeks so you’ve gotta bless me now, God!” Paul wrote to the Romans and said that God’s blessings can never be earned, even if you give up chocolate for six weeks (Romans 5.17, note ‘free gift’).
Repentance and fasting are never bad things for the believer to practice. However, practicing them to gain or to get is, honestly, not ok. Taking a predefined period of time to focus specifically and intentionally on the death and resurrection of Jesus is not wrong, but we need to be cognisant and conscious of this all year, not just for six weeks.
We are free to observe Lent if we wish (Romans 14.5-6) but there is no obligation. Observing and not observing Lent will neither gain nor lose you favour with God: He already loves you to the greatest possible extent and has proven it (John 3.16). If you feel like you need a period of time working towards Easter to focus on what is really important in your life, then consider observing Lent this year. I will be.
In the ups and downs of this past twelve months (of which there have been many; personal, pastoral, and public) I seem to have accumulated too much ‘stuff’. Things have come through our front door that have no discernible purpose in my life, and, so, this Lent I will be focusing on removing things from my life that have no purpose, things that add no value, and things that can be better used or enjoyed elsewhere or by other people. I will be using this time to focus more specifically and intentionally on the treasure stored up for me in heaven, not on the earthly goods that seem to have piled up around me during a somewhat melancholy twelve months. As Jesus said in Luke 12.15, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions“.
We are free to observe Lent if we wish, and if you would like to observe Lent with me this year, send me a message and we can observe it together.