Some of us grew up in churches that follow an annual church calendar. If that’s you, you may have memories (good or bad!) when you hear the word “lent.” Way back in church history, lent was not related to Easter, but was a time of preparation for baptism that included fasting. Later, lent became a 40-day time of devotion to God in preparation for Easter.
Why would we need a time of preparation for Easter? Because often we are more concerned with the Easter dinner or egg hunt, than we are with what God has done. What has God done and why aren’t we more enthralled with it?
Galatians 4:4–5 explains what God has done like this, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus lived a perfect holy life (obeyed God’s law), died for the sins of many to satisfy God’s justice against their sins (redeemed them), and rose to clearly demonstrate that all this was God’s doing. Just think: we who were dead in our sins (destined for God’s judgment in hell) have been made alive (redeemed) by the very Judge himself! This is true for all who are repenting of their sins and trusting Jesus to redeem and save them.
Why aren’t we more enthralled with this Good News? Two reasons are possible. First, we might still be dead in our sins. This means dead to God. His word and this Good News mean nothing to us, we are dead to it. The remedy is for God to make us alive. Set your face toward him, confess your sins to him, plead with him to save you through Jesus. Make this your daily quest (not once and done). Surely God will answer this earnest person’s pleading.
A second reason we aren’t more enthralled with this Good News of the Gospel is that our thoughts and hopes focus so little on this greatest of news. When many other things are more interesting to us than God’s Gospel Work, what should we do? Repent. Why? Because our greater interest in other things shows that our minds and hearts are wandering from God. Lent is a season that the historic Christian church has designated to correct this wandering. How? Let me suggest three practices.
Practice 1: Bible Reading If you are not already following a plan of reading the scriptures, I would suggest the following as you walk from here to Easter. Read the Gospel of Luke followed by the book of Romans. Time it to finish before Easter Sunday, so that you are reading all through these weeks until then (you will have to read about 2 chapters a day). As you read, stop to ask yourself, “What am I seeing here about God, Jesus, and mankind? What is the big idea of this section that I just read?”.
Practice 2: Prayer Most of us would admit that we pray less than we think appropriate. Most of us would say that we want to pray more. I would suggest that you do just that … pray more, during the weeks between now and Easter. Let this be an intentional focused time of prayer, not spontaneous. Spontaneous prayer is good, but not sufficient. Let this be a time when you aren’t doing anything else except praying to your Father in Heaven. If you don’t do that at all right now, then set a little alarm on your phone for 5 minutes, then sit quiet and talk with God. You’ll have to find a time and place for this to work, not just in the middle of the kitchen with 3 children buzzing around. What might you pray about? Ask God to reveal to you any sins you have done or are pursuing. Wait and see what he brings to your mind. Confess those to him. Ask him to forgive you and change you. Pray for God to do the same for the people you love, that they wouldn’t remain dead or dull to their sins. Talk with him about what you are seeing in your Bible reading. For example, are you seeing Jesus as wonderful? Tell God that. Also, remember God’s blessings upon you and thank him for those.
Practice 3: Fasting from Food This is the toughest one, at least for me. My body likes to eat and hates to be hungry. I get irritable when hungry. Not good. So, why fast from food? When we fast, it is not for the purpose of getting God’s attention or getting God to do what we want. He cannot be manipulated. And he doesn’t need us to “push” him to do what is right and good. He always does what is right and good. We don’t fast to get God’s attention, we fast to give God our attention. How does that work, using fasting to give God our attention? When I feel the hunger pain while fasting, I let the hunger for food remind me of my need to be hungry for God. When feeling the hunger pain, I tell myself Jesus’ words that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). I tell myself that I need God right now Far More than I need food. I tell myself, “Turn to God, Tim.” And just as we said earlier, this turning to God is not a once-and-done turning, but an every-day, every-hour turning. Ask God to reveal the sins in your life and in your heart. Ask him to help you repent and change. Ask him to increase your delight and hope in his Savior, Jesus.
As Easter approaches, lean in to God. Take advantage of this season to turn your soul toward him. Pick up these three practice to feed your joy in God and in what he has done through Jesus our Redeemer.