Before I dive into this post, if you’re not really sure what Lent is or you want a quick refresher, I’d recommend reading this short article, which hits the main points of what Lent is and why Christians often observe it.
I grew up in the Anglican church, and so from a very young age I knew about Lent, and when I got older I often observed Lent. I really love the traditions, the rich symbolism, and the beautiful prayers that accompany the Lenten season. However, I found that in the small town where I am now living, the Anglican church wasn’t meeting my needs. I had no friends there, and found it hard to integrate with the community.
A lot of my friends who are a part of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship go to a baptist church a short drive away from town, and I have started to go there as well. For the most part, I have enjoyed it. But, as with every church and every denomination, there are a few things that they do that I don’t 100% agree with. That’s just a part of life and faith, and as we read in the New Testament many times, we must remember the big, important things that bring us together, and not be torn apart by small and petty disagreements (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 1:10, James 1: 26 – 2:13…).
All of that said, there is some antagonism towards liturgical* churches that I find present in almost every other protestant or non-denominational church I go to (and the liturgical churches are just as guilty of judging other denominations, too. We are all fallen humans, all equally sinful and all equally in need of Jesus’ forgiveness). It is not typically said outright, but it is still there in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways.
*liturgical, i.e. they follow a liturgy – a specific set of prayers and responses – for each service. For example, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches are all liturgical.
Which brings me to my main point for this post. Today in church, the pastor felt obligated to talk a little bit about Lent. It was not a main focus of the sermon by any means since Baptist Churches don’t typically observe Lent. Since I have found Lent to be a very important time of spiritual growth for me each year, I was happy it was mentioned – the more people who know about it, the more who can experience all the good that can come out it. I did not, however, appreciate the one-sided view of Lent that was offered by the pastor. He said that most Baptists don’t really think Lent is a big deal (which, from what I have seen, is true), and then he said that really we should not just set aside Lent to be living close to God, but already be doing so every day.
First of all, he is not wrong, we should be living every day of our lives lead by the Holy Spirit, dedicating each day and each action to Christ, and daily spending time reading the Bible and praying. However, there was a bit of an implication in the way that he said it that those who observe Lent use it as a way to work hard at being a “good Christian” for about a month every year, and then spend the rest of the year doing whatever they want. Essentially working their way to salvation, which is contrary to the whole message of the Gospel – that Jesus has already paid the price for us, and now He is offering us a free gift of grace if we believe in Him. I think it is unhelpful to assume that those who observe Lent are trying to save themselves through their actions and not through faith.
Second, I think that there is great merit in dedicating some time to intense fasting, prayer, and reflection. It’s actually quite a Biblical concept, and Jesus Himself fasted in the desert for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11), not to mention all the times in Acts where it is mentioned that the apostles spent time fasting before making a major decision, and the many examples of fasting as a way of repenting and connecting with God in the Old Testament. I think that discarding Lenten observations as “something we should already be doing” cheapens the power that such actions can have. Giving up something you love (like chocolate or Netflix) and/or committing to spend a certain amount of time each day praying, reading the Bible, or spending time with God in some other way, is a way of physically showing God (and showing yourself) how committed and serious you are about Him. When I was in Albania two years ago, I heard one woman put it like this: “When I pray, it is like I am fighting the devil with one hand, but when I fast and pray, I can fight him with both fists.”
Third, observing Lent is a good thing to do, but do you have to do it to be a “good Christian”? No! Absolutely not! Salvation is not through our actions, but rather through our deep-down beliefs. These are the beliefs around which we base our whole lives. Our M.O. Our raison d’être.
I’d like to finish with a challenge:
- To those who are already committed to observing Lent this year, spend time with God today reflecting on why you are doing this. Ask yourself if you are doing it because it’s what you’re supposed to do at this time of year, or maybe you’re trying to get into God’s “good books” somehow (hint: if you believe Jesus died and rose again to forgive your sins and you have accepted Him as your saviour, you’re already in God’s good books). Ask God to show you something new over the next weeks, ask Him to fill you with His love, and thank him for what He has done for you.
- To those who have never observed Lent before, spend some time today asking God if it is something that you should take on. Maybe it is not right for you at this time, I don’t know, but God does. Listen to what He has to say to you, and thank Him for his amazing love and sacrifice.
Lastly, if you want some further reading on Lent, I really liked what Steve Bell had to say in his blog post last week.
I hope that you found this post helpful and thought-provoking. Please comment below with your thoughts. I’m a fan of good discussions, and this is a topic that I love to talk about. Happy Sunday!