What is Lent? It could be the best thing(s) you do this month.
So, I might be naturally attracted to things like Lent. I guess I sort of fit into the hipster millennial category even though I mostly try to deny it (which I guess is more proof). I like a freshly ground, freshly-roasted, hand-pulled, single-origin espresso in a coffee shop with white tile, raw steel, and walnut countertops. I’m drinking some while I write. I like old stuff, too. Things that have history and meaning. Especially if they make something more experiential. I tend to like some of these parts of my faith, too. Communion. Confession. Liturgy. You might not know what liturgy is, but you can learn more somewhere like Wikipedia. That’s how I learned about Lent. I looked it up.
Wikipedia says, “The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial.” Basically, it’s not what comes out of your belly button. That’s lint. Gross. Sorry for that. Everything Wikipedia said sounds helpful for becoming more like Jesus. Let’s break it down.
The preparation of the believer …
This part is somewhat self-explanatory, but not entirely. Lent prepares you for something, check. But for what? The best hint is in the beginning and end of Lent. It starts on Ash Wednesday, a day to remind us of our human shortcomings and need for a savior. Then, it ends the day before Easter, when we celebrate the day Jesus came back to life after giving up His life for us. This season actually began as a way to prepare for baptism, which is how we make our faith public. So, Lent prepares Jesus followers to come to terms with their human weakness and publicly declare Christ’s perfect salvation. That seems like a really great way to spend the next 40 days.
Through prayer …
Prayer is one of the greatest connections between people and God. It’s often how we move His heart and how He moves ours. Remember how Lent is like a connection between our flawed humanity and Christ’s perfect salvation? What better to do during Lent than pray? It’s the link between God and people. If you celebrate Lent with me, I challenge you to ask God to give you a theme for your prayers these next 40 days. Maybe your marriage, or your neighbors who don’t know Jesus, or for a certain issue you’re passionate about.
Doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement …
What is Lent? It’s these words. But if you’re like me, these words also require Wikipedia. Today, we practice penance and repentance by recognizing the ways we’re living outside of God’s best for us, admitting it to God and others, then doing what we need to do to live right. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer with God, talking with good people, and attending church all help us figure out what God’s best is. Almsgiving is about sharing with people who have less of something than we do. Less money, less food, less house, less opportunity, less freedom, etc. I think one reason Jesus wants us to do this is because we’ll find out we have less of something, too. Atonement is basically the whole message of the Bible. It’s what’s necessary for closeness with God. As humans, we try to do things without God or outside of Him. That’s sin. Throughout history, He’s been providing us a road back. In the Old Testament, it was sacrifice. Today, atonement is fully accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He paved the way to God once and for all. That’s our focus in Lent, walking the road to God, Jesus, atonement. Good stuff.
This is where Lent and this millennial hipster want to part ways. I like self-acceptance. My self is like, “Hey, can I have an espresso?” and I’m like, “Um, yes.” But since everything else about Lent seems solid, let’s look at this. Lent is about understanding our brokenness and declaring our dependence on Jesus’ perfect salvation. It’s also 40 weekdays. Why? Because Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert. So, kids used to always give up candy while adults would give up something like alcohol. Hence the spike in candy and alcohol sales on Easter. But, if Lent’s about becoming like Christ, then self-denial should accomplish that too. So, give something up that will actually help you to look more like Jesus. Maybe give up Netflix to find out you binge-watch too much. You may turn it back on, but you’ll watch fewer hours and less junk. Or give up overeating, getting drunk, looking at porn, sleeping around, defending your ego, or gossiping, but don’t restart after 40 days. Get help, and quit. Maybe you need to give up trying to work your way to God’s approval. Do Lent, but make it about becoming more like Jesus, not just observing a fast motivated by rules.
What is Lent? It should be the best thing(s) you do this month. It’s a season to refocus your life through your actions on who Jesus is and why you need Him. It’s a return back to the wonderful road Jesus paved for you. Will you celebrate that with me?