I first heard of Lent waaaay back when I was about 20. That first year, I decided I wanted to try to give up something for Lent: sugar. That was SO hard. And to be honest, I didn’t really understand why I was doing it.
Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about Lent. If you’re unfamiliar with it, here are a few myths and truths:
Myth #1: Lent is for Catholics.
Truth: Lent is observed by Catholics and Protestants. Lent is an ancient practice that began long before “Catholic” and “Protestant” were labels used by Christians.
Myth #2: Lent is 40 days long.
Truth: It’s actually 46 days! Those extra 6 days are
Myth #3: Lent is about fasting.
Truth: Well, that one was partly true, but Lent isn’t just about giving up something.
There are 3 traditional Lenten activities:
What is the purpose of Lent?
Together, these three pillars of Lent help us draw closer to God, which is the true purpose of the Lenten season.
Like Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days, or Moses being with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days, the 40 days of Lent are a physical reminder to draw near to God.
If you want Lent summarized in a sentence, it is this:
Lent is a 40 day period starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Saturday, during which Christians prepare their hearts for Easter, and draw near to God through the practices of prayer, fasting, and giving.
Which means that Lent isn’t about fasting: it’s about drawing closer to God.
RELATED: Can preschoolers observe Lent?
There are 3 practices that Christians have used for generations which can help you draw near to God, reflected in the 3 pillars of Lent mentioned above.
1) Prayer during Lent
Many people feel that the only thing we do during Lent is fast, but if the purpose of Lent is to help us draw near to God, we can’t just pick something willy-nilly. We need to be intentional about it.
Prayer can help us do that. To help, you can use this prayer to help you invite God into your Lenten season.
God, you are above and below me, around and beside me, hemming me in. And yet, I often feel far from you. Please open my eyes to the things that keep me from you. If there is something in particular that you want me to give up this season, please show me. Convict me and guide me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like an incredible resource to help you pray this Lent, my friend Arabah Joy runs an annual “praying the promises of the cross” challenge. This year, I will be writing one of the devotions. To join the free challenge, click here.
2) Fasting during Lent
Several years ago I was convicted about how much money I spent shopping. I was praying about it on the way to Costco one
Through this time of prayer, I was motivated to fast from buying things I didn’t need. Through that Lenten season, I not only learned to trust God more with our finances, but I learned to keep to a budget, which has changed the direction of our family finances.
Because every Sunday is a mini-resurrection celebration, Sundays aren’t included in the 40 days (which is why it’s actually 46 days)! You can’t fast on resurrection day!! So if you choose something extreme to fast from, remember that you can still participate in this activity on Sundays.
For example, some friends of mine actually fasted from ALL shopping during Lent. They did all their grocery shopping on Sundays. This year, I am going to fast from social media, so all my blog-related social media work will occur on Sundays.
Again, if you’d like to fast from something during Lent, I encourage you to do it prayerfully.
Here are a few suggestions of out-of-the-box ways to fast:
- 🛒 Give up shopping (completely, or from unnecessary items)
- 😳 Give up complaining
- 🍪 Give up sugar
- 💻 Give up social media
- 🍔 Give up purchasing fast food
- 🍗 Give up meat
- 💄 Give up wearing makeup
- ⏰ Give up sleeping in
RELATED: The fast that gets God’s attention
Sometimes Lent isn’t actually about giving up something physical, but about giving up TIME to the Lord.
Is there a time slot in your day that you could give your attention to God?
If you’re looking for something that’s exactly the same length as Lent, last year I created a 40-day reading plan called “40 Days With Jesus”.
If you’re hungry to get to know Jesus in a deeper way, I highly encourage you to take this email challenge. You can do this challenge alone, or with children of any age.
3) Giving during Lent
Remember my fasting-from-shopping experience? Here was an amazing byproduct: at the end of the season, I had a few hundred dollars left over to give to an organization that empowers the poorest of the poor.
If you choose to give this Lenten season, as a way of drawing near to God, here are some out-of-the-box suggestions.
- 💵 Use cash for your grocery shopping, and put all unused $$ each week into the church offering plate.
- 💸 Choose a ministry that serves in a way that excites you, and set aside a few dollars each week to donate.
- 💰 Set up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account for a worthy organization.
- 🦸🏻♀️ Give of your time to serve anonymously in an unusual way.
- 👪 Do some random acts of kindness with your family.
When it’s all put together, prayer, fasting, and giving can create an experience where you draw closer to God.
But remember, none of this is necessary for the Christian life. You don’t get “Jesus points” for fasting or praying or giving. But it can help you experience God in incredible new ways!
Should YOU observe Lent this year?
That’s between you and God. I encourage you to pray the prayer up
Personally, I have realized that social media has become all-consuming. So this Lenten season, I’m (mostly) giving up social media. My plan is to schedule posts in advance, and spend no more than 30 minutes per day in total, and only for business purposes.
How about you?
RELATED: 40 ways to observe Lent with kids
WHEN DOES LENT START?
This year (2019), Lent starts on Wednesday, March 6.
Within Lent, there are a few special days: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.
THE SPECIAL DAYS IN LENT
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a day to remember God’s holiness and our sinfulness. Recognizing this ought to lead us to repentance (which is the turning away from sin).
In the Bible, repentance was sometimes a very obvious act, when people would rip their clothes and wear something called sackcloth, and cover themselves with ashes.
Most people don’t repent quite so…dramatically these days, but will often go to special church service where a pastor or priest draws a cross on their forehead with ashes.
RELATED: What is Ash Wednesday?
2) Palm Sunday
This is the Sunday before
VERSES TO READ ON PALM SUNDAY: Matthew 21:1-11
3) Maundy Thursday
This is the day before Good
“Maundy” comes from the word “Mandatum” which means “commandment.” This is the day that Jesus commanded his disciples to wash the feet of others, just like he had done for them.
VERSES TO READ ON MAUNDY THURSDAY: John 13:1-17
4) Good Friday
Good Friday is the day that we remember the dead of Jesus.
VERSES TO READ ON GOOD FRIDAY: Mark 15:21-41
5) Resurrection Sunday
Praise Jesus, he’s alive! This is the day we remember the incredible power of God, raising Christ from the dead and defeating sin and death.
VERSES TO READ ON RESURRECTION SUNDAY: Luke 24:1-12
I hope you’ve found this incredibly long article helpful! If you have other questions about Lent, please ask them in the comments!