Lent is one of the many mysteries of Christianity that evangelical Christians and the unchurched have in common. Although the answer to “What is Lent?” is as close as a dictionary or a search engine, I grew up in an evangelical bubble and honestly didn’t know…or care, what Lent was. It seemed to be something that the more formal Christians did, like mass and communion. We were too cool for that. Why didn’t they just take the Lord’s Supper like we did? I found out later that we were all gathering around the Lord’s Table, but calling it by different names. Like the front entrance of a church: Is it a narthex, vestibule, or foyer? Yes! No wonder unchurched people are confused when they show up at God’s house!
This evangelical would like to attempt to decode Lent for those who didn’t grow up in a Catholic or mainline Protestant church. Lent is a 40 day season of fasting and repentance in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection/Easter.
Christians have been doing this together for over 17 centuries, though they have not all done it the same way or for the same amount of time. Second-century church father Tertullian likened this season of fasting to that of Daniel’s fasts, which were limited in time (10/21 days) and scope (no meats and sweets). Of course there is nothing wrong with the traditional 40 days (e.g., Moses, Elijah, Jesus).
For that matter, not all Christians have called it “Lent.” That term is not even remotely spiritual. “Lent” is an Anglo-Saxon term with Latin roots, and is the equivalent of the English word “spring.” It literally means “to lengthen” (daylight hours).
So now that we know, why should we care?
1. We are part of a larger faith family.
There are approximately two billion people who identify themselves as Christians around the world, most of whom observe Lent in some form or fashion. Although American evangelicals like me are a small part of that global group, many who fall within that category also observe Lent. I care about Lent because I care about the beautiful Bride of Christ—my extended faith family.
2. We all need to do some spiritual spring cleaning.
Although I do not use the term “Lent” to describe my own fasting and prayer, it helps to know that I am not the only one who is taking an inner inventory right now.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! (Jas. 4:8)
Offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness (Rom. 6:13).
3. We want to fast and pray in a way that honors God.
Part of my reluctance to observe Lent is my own ignorance, although a greater part is my desire to disassociate from related events like Mardi Gras celebrations. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” which is basically binge eating, drinking, and partying the day before Lent. I guess the same could be said for how some unbelievers celebrate Christmas.
Spiritual transformation is something we cannot do apart from the Spirit of God, but our genuine submission to it is also an essential component. Isaiah reminded Israel that God rejected their fasts as “sinful and false” (Isa. 1:13). Jesus warned us against showboating with our fasts (Matt. 6:16).
So, what am I willing to give up for Lent? More accurately, what am I willing to give up for Jesus as I personally prepare for the celebration of the resurrection? Anything that distracts me from growing spiritually. Fasting enhances the Biblical process of “sanctification” or “transformation.”
Regardless of what we call it, we could all use some spiritual spring cleaning.