Last week I introduced the idea of Lent as a helpful season for the Church and for Christians. This week, we’ll consider in greater detail some ways to incorporate Lenten practice in our lives.
The Good of Lent
One reason the observance of Lent is helpful is because it acknowledges the nexus between our spiritual and physical lives. Physical acts and postures help us know God. While Lenten observance is not necessary and, if understood improperly, can be dangerous, it nonetheless offers blessing to the Church. Its practice is wise and helpful. Lent offers time and space for self-examination, self-denial, and compassion.
Self-examination. Lent can be thought of as the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam.* Through self-reflection, Christians measure the ‘vital signs’ of their faith by taking stock of their hearts.
Here are some questions of self-examination to ask yourself each day or each week during Lent:
- What are you repenting of today?
- What will you stop doing because you are a beloved Child of a heavenly Father?
- What will you start doing simply because God has loved you in Christ?
Self-denial. You’ve probably heard the question, ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ and either squirmed to find an answer or proudly ticked off your Lenten resolution. Like any spiritual practice, the activities of Lent can become externalized. They can become routines for a Church or for individuals that bear the mark of religiosity but are devoid of real spiritual power. As pastor Craig Higgins puts it, “Lent is easily trivialized. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin.”
The self-denial of Lenten practice is a valuable spiritual discipline. Lent should lead us to give up not just television or caffeine or sugar, but to give up gossip or sloth (manifesting as a favorite distraction). It can be equally helpful to consider taking up new efforts for Lent. The New Testament frequently describes the Christian life as a putting off and putting on (for example, see Ephesians 4:20-24). During Lent we can prepare ourselves for Easter by taking up new habits like committing to read the Bible each day, praying with consistency, making the effort to speak encouragement to others.
Acts of compassion are another way that we can ‘put on’ the life of the Spirit during Lent. By giving up our time, talent, and treasure for the disadvantaged within our church and our community, we practice self-denial that helps us know Jesus’s love for us better.
Lent at City Church
City Church will mark the beginning of Lent this year with an Ash Wednesday service on February 22nd, 2012. It will take place in the Beth Ahabah Chapel at 7pm. The service is designed to help us to remember our mortality, to repent of our sin that led to Christ’s death, and to receive assurance of the forgiveness that He bought with His death.
Additionally, City Church is providing a few resources to help you observe Lent this year:
Children’s Ministry Director, Jennifer Murphy, has put together a devotional so that families can observe Lent through reading the Bible and prayer. These will be available on Sunday, February 26th, or by contacting Jennifer at email@example.com.
Our pastoral intern John Bourgeois has compiled resources to aid in your personal reading of Scripture during Lent and beyond. You contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pastor Kevin Greene at our sister church, West End Presbyterian Church, has curated a Lenten blog with readings and artwork aimed at drawing us into a fuller worship of God. That blog can be accessed here.
If you have other questions about how you can encounter Christ through observing Lent this year, please contact me at email@example.com.
*This idea and others in this post have been helpfully shaped by an article entitled ‘Lent’ by Craig Higgins. It can be found here.