As I wrote yesterday (I was tired after a long day of church stuff), I asked how your Lenten season was going. Now I realise that there are many people who don’t follow Lent and see it as something that belongs to the more liturgical churches. But I believe that it is something that all Christians can benefit from. Here’s why. I use a yearly devotional entitled Seeking God’s Face — Praying with the Bible through the Year. It is published by Baker Books. Here’s what this devotional says about Lent — I quote extensively:
Lent carries almost too much religious baggage with it for some people, popularly understood a season of joyless custom and duty. How then do we keep the Gospel front and centre in this season of shadows? The Cross keeps our focus clear. Lent is a season to journey with Jesus in His passion, to survey the Cross, taking the measure of Christ’s love in His suffering and death.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is the forty-day season leading up to Easter …. It begins with the stark reminder that “from dust you have come and to dust you will return” and leads toward Jesus’ final week, marked by Palm Sunday and stopping short of the resurrection celebration of Easter morning. Ashes are a good emblem of Lent, a picture of our own mortality and spiritual condition, a sign of Lent’s penitent spirit, and yet a hint of the hope of renewal.
Celebration isn’t the word to use for our participation in Lent. It is a somber journey of spiritual preparation and renewal, marked especially by repentance and prayer. In our pain-averse culture, Lent stands apart not by shrinking away from suffering but cultivating in us the wisdom that growth often (some might say only) comes through suffering. In a time a place of religious freedom, where we mostly don’t suffer for following Christ, Lent invites us to willingly identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting or other forms of self-denial.
The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the Gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus. It helps to imprint the form of the Cross in our lives, recognising that the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the Cross. Lent prepares us to experience the reality of resurrection joy only by first recognising the depth of our sin that pinned Christ to the Cross.
I think that this rather lengthy quotation best expresses what Lent is really all about. People will often talk about what they have given up for Lent — for instance giving up coffee (but let’s not go to extremes here!) But giving up something for Lent isn’t what Lent is all about. Rather, it is about turning your full attention to Jesus. If giving up something helps you do this, fine, as long as you use the time you have given up to focus on what the Lord has to say to you. The important thing is , if you observe Lent or not, to remember what Christ has done for you and show your thanks by surrendering your life completely to the Master. This is His good and perfect will for you. Finally, I would like to recommend a book to you by Timothy Keller entitled Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. It is an insightful book that will help you understand how much God loves us and why He sometimes allows suffering to come into our lives. It is a challenging read and will draw you closer to God.