In our normal life we do not do the same thing every day, 365 days a year. We have a workweek, weekends, statutory holidays and vacation time. Our year is punctuated by birthdays, anniversaries, and special times like Christmas or Halloween. Organized people think of getting things done in different “seasons” of the year. Income tax and spring cleaning come to mind, but we also make plans to get other tasks done during some time period. Some of us might plan to lose a few pounds because a wedding is coming up and we want to look good. Given this is how we live our life, why is it that some Christians object to there being rhythms and seasons in the Christian life? Why is it that to have a season where you commit to a deeper life of discipleship and holiness is considered “religious,” “legalistic,” “works righteousness”?
Granted lots of Christians abuse the Christian year. Granted some Christians explain seasons, like Lent, as if they have never heard of the Gospel. But just because some Christians mess this up does not mean there is something inherently wrong with the practice. Granted we should pray and read the Bible and be concerned with holiness all year round – but as I tried to show above, in our “normal” life we do not do the same thing every day, 365 days of the year. We understand the wisdom of seasons – sometimes setting aside times to work on something helps you all year long.
At its simplest, Lent is a season where you commit to a deeper holiness and more vibrant discipleship. The season of Lent is 40 days long – modelled on Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Sundays do not count towards the 40 days – they are already the Lord’s Day, a resurrection day, a feast day. The last day of lent is Holy Saturday – so Lent ends with Easter Sunday. During an Ash Wednesday service, you go forward to have the sign of the cross written in ash on your forehead. Ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning, repentance and an acknowledgement that we are frail and need God’s grace.
Second Timothy 3:16-17 provides a helpful context here: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man and woman of God may be complete, equipped for every good word.” We see Jesus saying the same thing time and time again in the Gospel of John. The word of God has a special role in helping us to live a more godly life. Lent should be a time where we take extra care to spend extra time reading and thinking upon God’s word written.
Consider reading the whole New Testament (you can do it if you read for 30 mins a day for 40 days – and still have a bit of time to spare!). Consider reading through all four Gospels. Consider memorizing 40 Bible passages. Consider making a 6 week commitment to meet with a couple of people and read and discuss the Bible together. Consider spending time meditating upon the “sin lists” in the Bible (Galatians 5 has an example). In this case you ask the Lord to convict you of sin, and then meditate upon the text, sin by sin. Conversely, you can read a virtue text like Galatians 5:22, spending time in prayer asking the Lord to grow these fruit in your life and/or show you how you are quenching the Holy Spirit, frustrating the growth of the fruit.
It is also good to consider spending extra time in prayer or humble service. Maybe you can “fast” from your phone and the internet for a day or week or a season. Maybe you can forsake some simple pleasure and take the money you would have spent on that pleasure and give it to support a missionary or a group that works with the poor.
Friends, please join me in having a Gospel-shaped Lent!