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Why Bother with Lent?

February 27th, 2015

by Dave Anderson

What do rowdy Mardi Gras, somber Ash Wednesday, and mysterious Lent have in common? Mardi Gras (aka ‘Fat Tuesday’) is the day before Ash Wednesday, which starts Lent—the 6-weeks leading up to Easter. “Fat Tuesday”- is ‘fat’ because it is the final chance to feast, before the fasting of Lent. Of fading significance in our culture, Lent is the core of the Christian calendar, although Lent gets less “air time” than Advent, because of the festive décor, songs, gifts, trees and shopping sprees which accompany Christmas. Why is lesser known “Lent” our centerpiece?  Because it leads to the ‘crux’ (literally, the ‘cross’) of the Christian faith in Good Friday, then Easter Sunday.

If you’ve had any churchly experience of Lent, it probably included a reluctant ‘pledge’ to refrain from food or fun. Perhaps one of the reasons for Lent’s obscurity is that it has become reduced to religious-rules regarding what foods and fun are allowed, and which are taboo. We need to rediscover Lent’s richness: the value of extended, focused meditation on the “magical moments” of our salvation: Jesus’ last supper, Jesus’ suffering on the Cross (‘passion’), and the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection.

Lent’s real significance needs to be rediscovered for our generation.  The practice of fasting, which can devolve into mere dietary rules, was intended by the ancient church to sharpen our focus upon spiritual repentance.  Biblical examples of fasting are usually linked to repentance from sin, and Lent seeks to build on this pattern.  Whatever practice you adopt during Lent (whether its turning-off Facebook, eliminating comfort foods or substituting extended Bible reading for Netflix watching), your choice to surrender something or attend special services like Good Friday April 3rd, create space in your heart to see your patterns of avoiding Jesus, and to refocus your heart on Him.  Lent is the ideal time to ask God to show you more clearly:  What are my sin patterns?  What are my ‘functional idols’ i.e. the things which are ‘functionally’ more important than God to me?  And the repentance question: How can I turn from my idols which siphon off the affection that Jesus alone deserves?

Listen to Craig Higgins, a pastor from the NY Metro presbytery:  “Keeping Lent… is potentially dangerous, precisely because of this focus on the heart.  After all, it is much easier to read a book on prayer than to spend time leisurely speaking with our heavenly Father.  It is much easier to fast from certain foods than it is to turn from idols of the heart.  It is much easier to write a check than to spend time in ministries of mercy…. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin!”

I encourage you re-enter the “magical moments” of Lent. Take a prayer walk. Ask God to deepen your appreciation of Jesus’ suffering for YOU, show you patterns where you run from–rather than to–God [HINT: we all have them]. Ask Him to help you name evil and find courage to say ‘no’ to your idols so you can say ‘yes’ to Jesus in a fuller way. Tell a trusted friend what God is showing you during Lent. This will enrich your friendship and invite others to rediscover the value of this ancient and life-renovating season.

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