Lent for Protestants who Don’t “Do Lent”

Growing up I didn’t understand Lent…

A friend or two would mention giving up something for Lent. Then there was eating fish on Friday and I was completely lost. How does “giving something up for Lent” and eating fish on Friday get you closer to God?

But God is the God of seasons and festivals. In the Old Testament Leviticus if full of times of fasting and feasting to help the Israelites remember what God did for them. Over and over the writer of Leviticus reminds the Israelites that these activities are “so that you will know that the LORD is God.”

So what does Lent mean this side of the Old Testament and how can we observe it so that it isn’t merely some outward action?

Lent has been around since very early in the history of the church. It has grown and changed (in length, etc), but “its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.” (Christianity Today)

Since the purpose for the Lenten season is preparation through self-examination, penitence, and self-denial, how did Lent get distilled to self-denial of chocolate or some other treat? We don’t deny ourselves in order to prepare our hearts, to exam ourselves, we deny ourselves because it is what we were taught or because it makes us look good or to earn brownie points with God.

Recently I’ve heard of others not denying themselves, but adding something. “Don’t focus on giving up something for the sake of giving something up,” he said. “Instead, try to add something good to your life, and only give up what’s necessary to add that something good.” (Patheos)

But why would we wait until Lent to add something “good” and why would we ever stop doing the “good” just because it is no longer Lent? “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (James 4:17 ESV)

So how do we faithfully keep Lent, a season of preparing our hearts for Easter?

First we ought to examine our lives. How do we make time for that? Some sort of self-denial. We give up a few hours of sleep, watch one less T.V. show, or give up a meal to pray, read scripture, and examine.

Once we examine ourselves and find ourselves wanting, we repent. We admit our failings, and ask God to empower us to go the other way. In other words we take seriously the sin in our lives and instead of getting comfortable with it, we kick it to the curb.

A season to prepare for the horror of Good Friday and the wonder of Easter Sunday. That is what Lent is about. I hope you join me as I write a daily devotion for this Lenten season.