Does the path to Christlikeness lead through reflection, repentance and renewal?
This spring, let’s find out.
Wednesday, Feb. 18, marks the start of the holiest season of the year. It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent—the 40 days, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. Lent is a time for prayer and reflection, consecration and repentance, preparation and renewal.
Isn’t Lent Catholic?
Of course, most Baptists say: “We don’t do Lent. It’s too Catholic.”
But you don’t have to be Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal or any other brand of high church to observe Lent. The discipline of setting aside about six weeks to prepare for Easter will do your spirit, and probably your body, good.
Two misconceptions often blind Baptists and many other Christians from seeing the blessings of Lent.
First is Lent’s association with Catholicism. For more than 400 years, Baptists have joined all kinds of Protestants in criticizing Catholics for emphasizing “works salvation.” We have found fault with their reliance on observing sacraments to achieve salvation. When it comes to redemption, we quote the Apostle Paul: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Our differences regarding salvation do not negate blessed practices of other Christians. We have much to teach—as well as receive from—each other. Catholics can teach us about the discipline of preparation. After all, that’s the focus of Advent, preparation for Christmas, and Lent, preparation for Easter. Doctrine aside, reason tells us and experience shows us our spirits encounter God more fully when we take the time and effort to orient them toward God’s voice and God’s activity in the world and in our lives. At its core, that’s Lent.
‘Giving up’ vs. reminding
Second is the inane dilution of the essence of Lent. In popular culture, about all we hear regarding Lent is “giving up” something: “I’m giving up chocolate for lent.” “I’m giving up caffeine for Lent.” “I’m giving up watching ‘The Bachelor’ for Lent.”
Of course, many people do refrain from favorite foods, beverages or activities during Lent. But the “giving up” is hardly the main point; it’s almost beside the point. This practice should be similar to fasting. The purpose is not refraining, but reminding.
For example, if you give up dessert for Lent, you might feel righteous every time you turn away from cake, pie, cookies or ice cream. And you might be indulging in the sin of pride. “Giving up” should serve two greater purposes: Every time you crave whatever you’re giving up, you are reminded of Jesus’ self-denying sacrifice for our salvation and our gratitude for the grace that redeems us. And if you’re giving up something of monetary value, you can save what you normally would spend and invest it in relief for or blessing to others.
A sustained discipline
The emphasis of observing Lent should be private, just between you and God. And it should focus on enabling you to consider God’s love for the world, Jesus’ passionate sacrifice for our souls and our grateful response to divine love and mercy. It might involve one or more actions. It should be sustained, daily and disciplined.
• Refraining from a favorite food or beverage and, every time you feel a craving, remembering both your sin and the divine sacrifice of Easter.
• Laying off TV or digital media for a defined time each day or week and converting that time to prayer and Bible reading.
• Altering a behavior, such as refraining from complaining, curbing gossip or quieting covetousness.
• Spending more time in silence before God.
• Designating time each day or week to serving others.
• Figuring out what your soul needs to focus on Jesus, and not letting anything stand in your way.