By Brooke Holt
As February draws to a close, a new church season approaches: Lent. Truthfully, as I was growing up, Lent was my least favorite season in the church year. Since early childhood, I was strongly encouraged to give things up for Lent—such as desserts, sodas, or television. Before I became a Christian, my Lenten practice was one of teeth-gritted self-discipline more than Spirit-guided self-denial.
As I have grown in my faith, I have come to understand the significance of Lent and know that the joy of Easter can be enhanced by the observation of a holy Lent. But let’s be honest. Lent is still hard!
So why should you or me or anyone else in our modern age practice these Lenten disciplines? Because they are good for our souls. We are comfortable people. Every week, the church invites us to worship, celebrate Communion, and fellowship with the people of God. We are abundantly blessed in our comfortable lifestyles, and we forget what it means to deny ourselves or go without something we think we need or want. We forget Jesus’s call to self-denial: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Of course, we don’t have to wait for the Lenten season to practice self-control. The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control (Galatians 5:23), and Paul listed self-control as a qualification of elders (Titus 1:8). But historically, believers have used the season of Lent as a time of spiritual preparation, and we can learn from their example. In the early church, for example, new converts would prepare for baptism with forty days for prayer, repentance, fasting, self-denial, and the reading of God’s Word. Unfortunately, some religious traditions turned this grace-filled practice into a law-based requirement, turning the holy season of Lent into an empty work.
As Christians, we know that every requirement of the law was fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and died a perfect death for us. And God “has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3–4). We can celebrate Lent free from obligation, free from legislation, and free from condemnation (Romans 8:1).
In recent years, I have given up things like coffee, sweets, social media, and wine. With the help of the Spirit, I can see the benefit of self-denial—as I set aside these temporary “loves” to grow my heart with a greater love for the eternal, holy God (1 John 2:5). When those forty days are over, I have a new choice to make. Did that thing I gave up really add value to my life? Did it draw me closer to the Lord or away from the Lord?
I will never give up coffee again (unless seriously convicted by the Holy Spirit), but I have gained new understanding throughout each Lenten discipline. In addition to giving things up, I have also started to take things on—such as speaking words of affirmation over people, donating food and household items to others, and making time in my day to meditate on and memorize God’s Word.
What if we allowed the Lord to search our hearts, minds, and lives this Lenten season? What if we allowed him to convict us of things that we may be overly attached to or things that may hinder us in our Christian walk? And what if we surrendered those things to him for just forty days? We may just experience him more deeply and find new freedom in our lives.
How might the Lord be calling you to observe a holy Lent this year? Are you feeling the conviction to give something up, like unholy dependence on the things of the world? Or are you feeling the desire to take something on, like a Bible study or a small group commitment? Our spiritual disciplines teach us what it means to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus. That is the way of Lent, the way of the cross, and the means to resurrection.
If you are looking for Lenten resources, consider The Crucified Life. You can study on your own, with a small group, or at church. You can even join Bible Study Media for an online version and Zoom meeting. Forty days of self-denial may not be easy, but with the help of God’s Word, forty days can transform your life as you walk with Jesus!
The Crucified Life small group Christian study is designed to reflect upon the Seven Last Words of Christ from the cross and what they mean for us today. Walk the road of Calvary with Jesus in order to grow closer to Him. The Crucified Life small group study examines human suffering as it is mirrored in Christ’s suffering on the cross and what His seven last words say to a hurting world. Find out incredible insights into these words as Jesus teaches us, even in death, how we can use our suffering and triumph over it for His glory. Begin your Crucified Life today.
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