Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lent is a 40-day time of fasting, reflection and penance culminating in the Holy Week and the Easter Sunday commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Lent is generally associated with those who observe Catholic traditions. The canonical requirements for U.S. Catholics are: Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. (American Catholic.org)
I choose to participate as an annual time of self-examination, fasting, and repentance. My personal goal is to leave the 40 days of Lent with more intimacy with God and thus, vitality of faith, than when I entered.
How do I achieve this goal?
The three keys of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer: Believers should never begin any kind of fast without first spending time in prayer. For weeks prior to Lent, I prayed and asked the Lord from what I should abstain. My personal desire is to abstain from frivolous activities which prevent me from spending time with the Lord. At the end of the 40-day abstinence, my hope is that I will be less likely to re-invite the frivolous activities back into my life, as I have grown closer to God and developed new and better habits of spending such time in God's Word, in prayer, or in activities to further His Kingdom.
Fasting: According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The emphasis was not so much on the fasting as on the spiritual renewal that the preparation for Easter demanded. It was simply a period marked by fasting, but not necessarily one in which the faithful fasted every day. However, as time went on, more and more emphasis was laid upon fasting…During the early centuries (from the fifth century on especially) the observance of the fast was very strict. Only one meal a day, toward evening was allowed: flesh meat and fish, and in most places even eggs and dairy products, were absolutely forbidden. Meat was not even allowed on Sundays."
In current day, mainstream Christians observe Lent as a time for fasting and repenting from sin and vices. However, although fasting can indeed give us opportunity to give up our little vices, remember that real change cannot come without the Holy Spirit's work in the renewing of our minds.
This year, I initially believed I would give up some food or beverage during Lent, but the Lord reminded me of my original intent. I am setting aside the entertaining apps installed on my smartphone which have taken up so much of my time in recent months. Forty days of no Word Game, Facebook or Twitter, activities which will be replaced by YouVersion Bible App. (https://www.bible.com/)
Make your own fast more than just giving something up for 40 days. Make it life-changing by inviting the Holy Spirit to participate!
Almsgiving: An old school word, almsgiving brings to mind the initial scene with the Alms Collectors in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." When the collectors tell Ebenezer Scrooge that the poor would rather die than go to an institution, Scrooge answers, "If they'd rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."
If you want to know the Christian way of almsgiving, it is the complete opposite of the above Scrooge way.
Wikipedia gives us a simple definition as "giving to others as an act of virtue, either materially or in the sense of providing capabilities (i. e. education) for free."
During the season of Lent, deliberately look for ways to meet the real needs of others. We are literally surrounded by people in need.
- Does someone need a ride to work? Offer it, even if it's out of the way for you.
- Do you know someone who is struggling to make ends meet? Offer to pay one of his utility bills or buy some groceries. Important: Make it clear you are giving him a gift and you expect nothing in return.
- Do you have a skill or trade someone else really needs right now? Can you fix a leaky faucet or change a flat tire? Gladly offer your services to someone in need!
- Are there people in your life with whom you regularly have contact, yet you find yourself cringing at the thought of being in the same room with him? Set aside your pride and grumblings and complaining, and pray for God's grace to accept that person as they are, and to be able to show the person God's great love and mercy, just as God has shown YOU His great love and mercy. (I really need to work on this one.)
As we go through Lent together, I encourage you to empty yourself of you to allow the glory and splendor of Jesus to fill you up. This is not just 40 days of giving up chocolate, this is 40 days of:
- getting closer to God through prayer
- allowing the Holy Spirit to do some serious work in you
- counting the needs of others as more important than your own
And once Lent is over, don't stop doing what you did during Lent. Instead of "Lent," make it "Life."
- A Life of prayer.
- A Life of intimacy with God.
- A Life of helping others.
This is a Life that makes the fruit of the Spirit visible! Make it your Life!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
For those who are interested, participate in the Lent Challenge (http://margaretfeinberg.com/lentchallenge-read-new-testament-40-days/) and read the New Testament during Lent. I hope you will consider joining me!