February 17 is Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of Lent. Not counting Sunday’s, Lent is a 40 -day season leading up to Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent served as a season of fasting and prayer to focus more purposefully on Jesus and his gospel.
Sadly, over time in many communities, Lent became little more than an empty religious ritual. Tragically, beliefs that run counter to the good news of the gospel changed Lent altogether. Ideas like penance and meritorious mercy hijacked the gospel beauty of lent. Penance is an attempt to earn forgiveness from God through self-inflicted punishment. Meritorious mercy is an attempt to earn God’s favor by proving how much I love him through personal suffering. Both ideas run counter to the gospel. We are fully forgiven and fully loved in Jesus. Grace alone.
For these reasons, many of us who grew up in evangelical (protestant) churches stayed far away from Lent. That’s my story. If you are like me, I’m encouraging you to do what you may never have done before. Participate in Lent this year. If you are unlike me, perhaps you have participated, but maybe your participation was little more than a religious ritual, or it was even motivated by penance or meritorious mercy. I’m encouraging you to do what you may have never done before. Participate in Lent this year with gospel motives, believing that you are fully loved and fully accepted because of the finished work of Christ alone. Celebrate this.
In Philippians, Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” That’s the heart behind Lent. Will you join me in 40 days of “suffering loss” so that we may gain Christ and be found in him? Let’s learn to go without good things to be satisfied by the greatest, Christ himself.
Remember, we don’t do this, so Jesus will like us more and make us his own. We pursue him in this way because Jesus has already made us his own. As a family, let’s use the opportunity this season gives us to re-center our lives on the gospel of Jesus, not to increase God’s favor toward us. But to increase our fervor for him. Let’s begin with a singular motive: Christ alone because Jesus made me his own.
Should you choose to participate, you are, of course, free to determine your own fasting rhythms. But, if you’re looking for ideas, or would like to participate in a shared experience with our church family, here are some recommended fasts:
*Weekly: Eat 3-4 dinners as a family. No phones or shows at dinner. Replace dessert or meat with family devotions (The Jesus Story Book Bible is a great place to start)
Feb 17 – 20: Skip 1 meal. Fast from video games, shows, non-essential internet and phones.
Feb 22 – 27: Skip 1 meal. Fast from radio, podcasting, and music.
March 1 – 6: Skip 1 meal. Fast from video games, shows, non-essential internet and phones.
March 8 – 13: Skip 1 meal. Fast from 2-3 days of non-mandated physical exercise.
March 15 – 20: Skip 1 meal. Fast from caffeine.
March 22 – March 27: Skip 1 meal. Fast from alcohol & tobacco.
Mar 29 – April 3: Skip 1 meal. Fast from sex and/or processed sugars.
We don’t fast (or go without) for the sake of fasting. Someone has written: “Lent is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel.”
Fasting is effective, when we fill that time and space, and satisfy our longings, with Jesus.
We pursue Jesus primarily through his word, the Bible, and through prayer. Here are a few recommended rhythms for this coming season of Lent:
- Spend time meditating on and journaling through the preached passage each week.
- Use a focused Reading Plan: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/85-40-days-of-lent
- Practice silence and solitude with a Bible, a pen, and some paper.
- Pray (in a place where you will not see or hear your electronic devices).
- Learn new, gospel-centered, Jesus focused songs. Sing them out loud.
Here are four helpful questions to help spark your journaling, as you read scripture:
- Who is God (as revealed in this passage)?
- What has God done (which reveals who God is)?
- Who am I in light of God’s work?
- How should I live in response to the work of God?
“The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don’t worry about whether or not your sacrifice is a good one. It’s not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you. Seek to replace that thing with devotion to Christ – his word and his mission. God may lead you to give up and take up more as you go. That’s good. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.”