Growing up in a Southern Baptist home in rural West Tennessee, I had very little contact with the season of Lent. I had a couple of friends who were practicing Catholics and would hear the word occasionally, but I honestly never thought much about it.
In the last few years, however, I have become more and more interested in this ancient practice that can prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. So, here are a few reasons why a Baptist might celebrate Lent.
(1) Lent breaks my routine. For the most part, my life is pretty routine. The same activities day after day that lead to the same activities week after week that lead to the same activities month after month. Sure some activities are exchanged for others in the midst of the year — basketball becomes baseball becomes swimming becomes football becomes basketball — and on and on and on, but for the most part my life is pretty consistent. Now, some routines are good and necessary in life, but I often find that the more routine my life becomes as a whole — the less I am challenged to grow in my spiritual life.
Growing up, I always had seasons or weeks of introspection and examination that drove me into a deeper relationship with God. Whether those moments happened at Youth Camps, DiscipleNow Weekends, Passion Conferences, or Revival services, my routine was broken and my relationship with the Lord was challenged.
As I have grown older with more responsibilities, I have found that I still need those moments. Lent has provided that for me in the last couple of years. As I have undertaken observing Lent, I have found myself focusing on my inner life and what the Lord is calling me to do.
(2) Lent helps me obey Jesus’ teaching on fasting. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “when you fast … .” Another part of growing up in a Southern Baptist church in rural West Tennessee was that fasting was rarely mentioned in discussions of following Jesus. And yet, right there below the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “when you fast.” He doesn’t say “if” — he says “when.”
As a part of my observance for the last couple of years, I have fasted from something during Lent. Two years ago during Lent, I fasted from caffeine. For some people, caffeine fasting wouldn’t be that big of a deal. For me, however, fasting from caffeine was life-altering. Multiple times a day during those 46 days, I would crave or think of having something with caffeine. In those moments, I attempted to focus my thoughts and attention on the Lord.
In the last two years, I have been challenged by how even the smallest sacrifice is difficult for me and how even the smallest sacrifice can reinforce my dependence on the Lord.
(3) Lent prepares me to celebrate Easter. The single thought that confirmed my need to observe Lent actually formed in my mind during the Christmas season a few years ago. I simply thought, “Why do I spend so much time preparing for the birth of my Savior and so little time preparing to celebrate His resurrection?” For years, I would preach that the birth of Jesus is only meaningful because of His death and resurrection. In fact, Paul says that without the resurrection, everything we do is in vain and we are to be pitied as believers in Jesus (I Corinthians 15). Observing Lent helps us to remember the entire story of Christ and prepares for the joy of the resurrection. In a Breakpoint commentary I once heard Eric Metaxas explain, “During Lent, Christians … rehearse — in the most basic meaning of that word — the story of our salvation, starting with the Fall and culminating in Good Friday.” And in this rehearsal, “a consistent picture of God emerges: the God who takes the initiative in reconciling us to Himself.”
As I have observed Lent, the anticipation I feel for celebrating Easter grows with each passing day as it grows closer. And when I stand with fellow believers on Easter morning and declare “The Lord is risen — He is risen indeed,” my heart is bursting with the excitement of the hope within.
If you want to observe Lent this year, let me give you a couple of suggestions.
(1) Fast. Find something in your life and decide to give it up for the next 46 days. Fasting does not have to involve food (although in my life some sort of food is the most impactful), but it does need to be something that you will miss. Some people fast from specific foods (red meat, pork, chocolate, fast food, etc.) or drinks (caffeinated, carbonated, sweetened, alcoholic, etc.).
Other people give up technology (Facebook, Twitter, television, texting). Still others give up harmful or not so harmful habits. The key is to stick to it and to spend the time or effort you would have spent seeking the Lord in prayer, study, or service. You can even take the money you might have spent and give it to a cause that furthers the work of the kingdom.
(2) Study. Spend some time studying God’s Word. Maybe you want to read through the entire Bible or New Testament or gospels during these days. Perhaps you want to read a book that will challenge you spiritually. Look for Lent-centered devotions for you or your family (devotions like Journey to the Cross).
(3) Serve. Find somewhere to serve. Maybe that means serving in a ministry of your local church that you have known about but have not served in. You can also find a ministry in your community that is serving people in the name of Jesus and join in.
(4) Worship. Make sure you take time during Lent to worship God in community with other believers. Spend time singing songs of celebration. In fact, Sundays during Lent are to be days of celebration. You break your fast on those days (feast days) in order to be reminded of what is coming and what you are missing.
(5) Give. There is very little in life that can be more sacrificial than giving.
Make it a priority during Lent to financially support your local church and ministries that are doing the work of the kingdom of God.
Take the money that you would spend on luxury items in your life and give it instead to further the work of Jesus.