Thursday Thoughts on Faith: Lenten Disciplines

As I mentioned in my post on Monday, I’ve decided to observe Lent this year.

The season of Lent is traditionally the 40 day period (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday during which believers prepare for Christ’s passion and ultimate resurrection by observing a time of penitential fasting and prayer. While Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans still observe Lent, many evangelical churches do not–including the non-denominational churches in which I grew up. (A short history of this season in the liturgical Christian calendar can be found here.)

Last week, I read a great blog post on observing Lent from Christianity Today‘s newest blogger, Amy Julia Becker. Writing for a primarily evangelical audience, she has some awesome things to say “In Defense of Lent“–particularly five reasons why she has changed her mind about the season. Here are two of her reasons that I really found compelling, along with her parting thought:

The church year: Observing the patterns of the liturgical church year isn’t a requirement for any Christian, but it has served as a helpful tool for me. We live daily lives before God, sure, but we also live in seasons. When time stretches out endlessly, without markers and rhythms, change seems less possible. But the defined season of Lent gives us an opportunity to fast and focus for a particular amount of time on a particular aspect (the cross) of God’s saving work for us. . . .

Limitations: I could make a list of countless habits I should change and probably even more spiritual practices I’d like to cultivate. But I can’t do them all at once. Lent is an opportunity to approach one or two. For a season. With God’s help. I’m overwhelmed at the thought of a daily Bible reading plan. I know I will fail if my New Year’s resolution is to pray every morning for a specified amount of time or give up caffeine forever or even to fast from a particular meal or for a particular day every week of the entire year. But for forty days, just forty days, in anticipation of a celebration . . . well, with God’s help, perhaps I can do that. And perhaps I can learn and grow a bit in the process. . . .

Nowhere does the Bible, or even the church, command fasting during Lent. But this church season offers me an invitation, and this year I’m planning to accept it.

The full post is definitely worth a read.

The Anglican church that I now attend observes the season, along with all other liturgical celebrations. My church’s rector (head pastor) echoed some of Amy Julia’s thoughts in last Sunday’s weekly bulletin message, along with some suggestions for how to observe Lent:

In Lent we seek to remind ourselves that Christ is the cornerstone and the most important person in our life; that God and loving Him matter more than anything. A Lenten discipline shouldn’t be such a large thing that you are unlikely to follow through, but better to be something small and therefore reasonable to be able to actually do. Often people will decide to:

  • Skip a meal once a week and use that time for prayer
  • Go without alcohol or chocolate or sweets, etc. in order to grow in personal discipline
  • Set aside a regular time to read and reflect on a Christian classic
  • Attend the Wednesday Eucharist every week
  • Block off the same night each week in order to ______
  • Go on a retreat

Ask God, “Where do I need to cut back, clean out or focus in during this Lent and how shall I do it?” Then prayerfully enter this discipline.

Keeping all of these things in mind, this Lent, I’ve personally decided to:

  1. Give up sweets of all kinds — cookies, cake, ice cream, candy, you name it. I’m not going to go so far as to give up sugar entirely, but I definitely will not be partaking in any treats.
  2. Read the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I’ve wanted to read these books for quite some time, and I can think of no better time to contemplate the life of Christ and the magnitude of his sacrifice than during Lent.
  3. Complete the daily readings in the devotional Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C by N.T. Wright. The devotional contains a daily scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke, plus a daily meditation. Following the devotional, I will read through the entire book of Luke during this season.

I look forward to the richness of this season and all that Christ will teach me through it. I know that giving up sweets is not going to be an easy thing to do–but I think that is exactly why I need to do it. As Amy Julia observes: “When I deny myself something I desire physically, it can remind me of the spiritual longings I often suppress. And when I ‘suffer’ as a result of that self-denial, it can remind me of the suffering God was willing to endure on our behalf.”

I know that God won’t love me more or less if I do (or don’t) observe Lent, but it is undoubtedly a worthwhile practice. Food has long been an idol for me, and I need to lay it down at the foot of the cross. There is no better time to do that than Lent.

Do you observe Lent? If so, what practices will you put into place this year?

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