Tomorrow begins the traditional season of Lent. For many within the Christian faith worldwide, this is a normal part of their yearly worship. For others, like myself and those who worship with me in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, the concept of Lent can seem foreign, scary, and for some a little too Catholic.
What do we need to know about Lent? Is Lent something that as Christians we should participate in, fight against, or ignore?
First, we should remember that Lent is not biblical, nor is it anti-biblical. This is an important concept to remember, because we often ignore one of these two aspects. The fact that Lent is not found in Scripture let's us know that it is not an ordained activity. We cannot enforce it upon anyone, and God does not expect it to be a part of our worship. However, Lent in general is not an anti-biblical concept either. The basic elements of Lent--prayer, fasting, penitence, and giving are all important elements of the Christian faith. The Bible may not express them in the formula of Lent, but the Bible certainly does not give us details about how to do communion, preach, etc. We have freedom to follow these teachings in a way that is effective in our circumstances.
Lent is a season of preperation for Easter. The common belief is that we should take extra care to prepare our hearts and minds as we approach Easter. However, as a Christian, we celebrate Easter every Sunday. Every week should be seen as a time of celebration, and every week should be a time of preperation. It is not wrong to take a season and put in an extra effort, as long as we are not looking at Lent as our only time to pray, fast, repent, or give.
So how can a member of the Christian Church/Church of Christ participate in Lent in such a way that it is beneficial and God glorifying? I have a few suggestions:
Instead of penitent, be repentant. A penitent person is a person who is sorry for the sin they have committed. We should be sorry, but more so we should be repentant. A repentant person turns their sorrow over their sin into resolve to make changes in their life. What better time than as we turn our hearts and minds toward the sacrificial death for the forgiveness of our sins for us to examine our sinfulness, and make resolutions toward ending those patterns in our life.
Read the Gospels. The gospels are the fourfold story of Jesus Christ. If you want to prepare yourself for Easter, read them. Spend time in them. Ask questions about them, pray about them.
Keep Sundays Festive. Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection. Do not neglect the celebrative nature of Sunday because you have not yet reached Easter on the calender--Easter happened 2000 years ago! The victory has been won! Even as you fight against your spiritual sinfulness, take time each Sunday to recognize that through Christ you are a saint, a "made holy one" by the blood of Jesus, and celebrate it!
Keep your devotion quiet. Prayer and fasting are very personal aspects of our relationship with God. Keep them private. If you need someone to pray with you, or even fast with you, ask one or two people who you trust and who will respect the importance of this time for you.
Don't neglect the ordained for the optional. Lent is optional, wheras there are many biblical mandates that are not. If you cannot seem to focus on things that you are commanded to do, don't clutter your life with a traditional option. Focus on the most important aspects of the Christian faith.
I hope this helps. I know that Lent can be a time of confusion if you aren't really sure what its about. It can be a time that ends up leading us away from God through our confusion and silliness in attempting to "do Lent." If you have any other questions about Lent from a Christian Church perspective, don't heistate to ask!