Observing the season of Lent

Published 9:09 am Monday, March 14, 2011

Easter Sunday is arguably the most important day of the year for Christians all over the world.

This is the day when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a joyous time and should be celebrated exuberantly.

When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a big deal with a sunrise service and breakfast for everyone. After that, we had our regular Sunday morning service. It was a time of celebration with reenactments of the resurrection story and lots of singing.

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It is interesting, though, that there was never a season of preparation for Easter. It seemed to sneak up on us with little warning. Christmas got a preparation time with Advent, but not Easter. It wasn’t until later that I discovered there was a 40-day season of preparation for Easter called Lent.

I learned about Lent and was intrigued. Then the learning morphed into something I started to practice and the season became meaningful to me. A preparation time anticipating the resurrection brought new joy to Resurrection Sunday on Easter morning.

The season of Lent started this past week on Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and will go on for 40 days (minus Sundays) until Easter Sunday. Many ask the question during this season, “What are you giving up for Lent?” While this is the season for prayer, repentance, giving and fasting, these practices are not without specific purpose. (Just fasting from something or giving something up without pursuing God isn’t that useful at Lent.)

It is not just about giving up something, but about dying to ourselves and identifying with Jesus’ death and then celebrating new life in Him on Easter Sunday. It’s a reminder that we need a Savior and that Jesus’ winning our salvation through His death and resurrection is indeed good news.

For me, the best perspective of the season is not to somehow do penitence for my wrongdoings and sins, (as if that were even possible to remove my sins) but a time of soul searching.

It is a time to take an inventory of my life and assess what may have crept in that may steal my focus and distract me in following Christ. I believe that our lives as Christians need to be characterized by obedience to Christ and following His teachings. A season of contemplating my spiritual maturity is very beneficial to my relationship with Christ.

This becomes an internal and an external engagement of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:6 (NIV) where He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Jesus said these words almost two thousand years ago when He announced to everyone that the Kingdom of God had arrived. He was calling everyone to come and dedicate their hearts to God.

Just reading these words can bring encouragement to us, but the real question is about the application of these words in our lives. What does a life that pursues a right standing before God (righteousness) look like?

Many times we frame this as going to church or doing good things, but it is ultimately about accepting Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins and living in response to the gospel as an everyday lifestyle.

As a Follower of Jesus, the Gospel has done its work and through grace, my salvation has been secured. So I live to bring honor to the One who has saved me. But there is a tension that remains.

The hunger to pursue righteousness is not always my first choice. In fact, for all of us, there are habits that we pick up and weaknesses that we develop that need to be recognized and removed. Lent provides us with a season to focus on this and an opportunity to pursue righteousness that is “built” into the calendar.

I pursue righteousness that can only be found in Him and respond with a life of obedience and gratitude for His great gift of salvation.

When we fast from something, it helps to loosen the grip of those things that we have become dependent on, and is one of the ways to specifically pursue righteousness.

But this righteousness is found, not in trying to modify behavior or maintain morality, but in pursuing Christ.

So fasting must be more than just giving something up, but also a specific turning to Christ. So we say “no” to something and say “yes” to deepening our relationship with Christ.

While this is the desire of many on any Sunday morning in churches everywhere, maintaining that pursuit of righteousness can be difficult.

Many things in our lives try to get our attention as well as the battle we face of our own appetites that many times try to control us. The season of Lent helps refocus us and helps us grow as we pursue righteousness and anticipate Easter.

Later in Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This denial of self and dying to self is, in a small way, fulfilled by observing Lent. So take some time to ask yourself what is distracting you in your walk with Christ. Then at least for the next forty days, stop doing that and instead go after what fuels your desire to follow Christ. Observe the season of Lent and pray and fast and give and then celebrate the resurrection life on Easter Sunday.

Gene King is the pastor for Grace Fellowship.