Have you ever noticed how some people have ashes smudged on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday? Having grown up in the deep South in a fundamental church, the practice seems, well . . . kind of strange.
This year, many will begin Ash Wednesday with an early morning service. It’s a solemn occasion, focused on repentance and prayer. Many services will have long periods of reflective silence and often, worshippers will receive ashes in the form of a cross on their foreheads as a priest or a pastor says, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” This is done to remind worshippers of their fallen humanity and need of redemption Gen. 3:19.
The following 40-day Lenten season is supposed to be marked by fasting, repentance and prayer—as a time set aside to prepare both the heart and the mind to celebrate Easter.
Unfortunately, some observe lent only because they’re supposed to.
Others intend to fast, but don’t really follow through with it.
Some brag about what they’re giving up.
But most of the people I’ve talked to said observing Lent is helpful, providing an opportunity for reflection and heartfelt repentance.
As for me, I’ve never observed Lent or really thought about what it means.
But I wonder if I’ve missed something.
Of course, there is no mention of Lent in the Bible. The practice of Lent was not formalized until 325 A.D. by the First Council of Nicaea. So then, observing Lent is strictly voluntary and personal, but it can have value.
And it’s something you may want to consider observing this year.
1. To gain needed perspective. Focusing your attention on eternal things, such as the Word of God, the gift of Jesus Christ, faith, love and eternal hope realigns your mind with what’s important. Everything else—no matter how pressing your schedule seems today—will pass away. Lent is simply a reminder that there’s life beyond this world—that even though our planet seems permanent, it’s not.
2. Its practices are biblical. Lenten practices such as prayer, repentance and fasting are emphasized in the Bible. Jesus withdrew into the desert and fasted for 40 days before starting His ministry. The prophet Daniel fasted and prayed, as did Paul and the other members of the early church. Although Lent is not mentioned in Scripture, its meaningful practices are woven throughout the entire Bible.
3. It can prepare your heart for Easter. Reflection, repentance and prayer during Lent can make Easter much more meaningful. I admit that some years, I haven’t prepared for Easter as well as I should have. As a Christian, it’s good for me to celebrate Christ’s resurrection—it mirrors my future resurrection. Easter is a special opportunity to celebrate my salvation and my permanent adoption into the family of God. As children of God, we have much to celebrate! The Old Testament commanded the Jews to observe religious holidays, so that they would remember what God had done for them. Celebrating religious holidays can do the same for us, today.
Here’s Why Not:
1. Because someone is trying to guilt you into it. The observance of Lent by Protestant groups is on the rise. This can be a great thing, unless you don’t want to join in. If you fast for Lent merely to fit in or make someone else happy, it has little value. God treasures authenticity (Is. 29:13). If you participate in Lent to draw closer to God, then go for it, but if it’s only to jump on a bandwagon or because someone’s pushing you, perhaps it’s best not to observe Lent at all.
2. To highlight your spirituality. I admit I like “likes” and “attaboys” as much as anyone. But we’re warned not to pursue recognition as we practice our faith. The Lord wants genuine worship that is motivated by love:
“From here on, worshiping the Father will not be a matter of the right place but with the right heart. For God is a Spirit, and he longs to have sincere worshipers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24 TPT
Jesus also said that if you fast or pray only to be seen, then you’ve already received your reward (Matt. 6:16-18). Bragging about Lent—even subtly—robs it of its intended blessing.
3. To make God love you more. Ten thousand years from today, God will love you just as much as He does now. God’s love does not grow or mature; it is already complete. So no kind of spiritual observance, no matter how biblical or trending it is, can make Him love you more. As much as you may want to try to earn God’s love, you can’t. He already loves you completely and forever.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent can be a meaningful way to encounter God’s love, grace and mercy in a different way. It can be an opportunity to examine your life, reach out to God and be grateful His forgiveness.
How or if you celebrate it is up to you:
“In the same way, one person regards a certain day as more sacred than another, and another person regards them all alike. There is nothing wrong with having different personal convictions about such matters.” Rom. 14:5 TPT
What do you think about observing Lent? Feel free to comment below.
Ash Wednesday is this week (3/6/19). Instead of fasting from something this year, you may simply want to add something.
Why not dedicate this time to seeking the Lord?
My new 40-Day study guide can help. Each day it features Bible reading and 3 thought questions with writing space to focus your mind on the Lord and to nourish your soul.