Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is here. Have you thought about observing Lent this year?
There’s no Scriptural requirement to observe Lent—ultimately, it’s just the six week lead-up to Easter Sunday in the church calendar—but many Christians find it helpful and inspirational to observe the Lent season in some way. Generally speaking, when people observe Lent, they commit to a spiritual activity—prayer, Bible reading, reflection, self-denial, service, etc.—that will sharpen their understanding of Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice as described in the Bible’s account of the first Easter.
The question of whether or not to observe Lent is a personal one with no “right” or “wrong” answer. But if you’re thinking about participating, here are a few ideas to consider.
Prayer is one of the core activities of the Christian life; the Bible commands us to pray continually and assures us of the efficacy of our prayers. Jesus himself took time on the night of his arrest to call out to his Father in prayer. Prayer is thus an understandably popular activity during the Lent season.
When committing to pray over an extended period of time, it might help to choose a theme around which to center your prayers. Consider the following possible prayer “projects” to follow over the course of Lent:
- Pray for each member of your family, asking God to bless, challenge, and protect each individual.
- As above, but extend your prayers to include the members of your church, neighborhood, or other community. Find a phone directory or other listing of the members of your community, and each day pray for the next person on the list.
- Pray for your “enemies”—the people who confound, frustrate, and oppose you! And pray for yourself as well, that you would show your enemies the same grace that Christ showed to his.
- Pray for a different country each day during Lent. A few minutes on Wikipedia can give you a basic overview of the challenges facing any particular country. Pray also for missionaries and Christian communities in each country, whether they live in freedom or face daily persecution for their faith.
- With a bit of thinking, and perhaps consultation with your pastor or church leaders, you can probably come up with a long list of people and situations that need prayer, both in your local community and across the globe.
Acts of service, particularly to help the underprivileged and others isolated from mainstream society, have always been at the core of Christian ethics. What acts of service could you perform during Lent?
- Cook meals, run errands, and offer a helping hand to a person or family in your community that needs assistance with day-to-day tasks. If you can’t think of anyone who needs this kind of help, your pastor or church leadership can almost certainly identify people for whom “small-scale” help like this would be a literal godsend.
- Donate food, money, or time to a local homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter, children’s hospital, or another organization that ministers directly to the hurting.
- Go out of your way to (anonymously, if possible) do something nice for a person in your neighborhood or community. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway when it snows; give a financially struggling family you know a gift card for gas and groceries; host dinner for that family you’ve been meaning to meet but haven’t yet.
- Identify a missionary family ministering abroad and support them with letters, donations, and/or prayer.
3. Scripture Reading
We talk a lot about the value of reading God’s Word here at Bible Gateway. There are few activities you can undertake that will bring you closer to God than to spend time regularly—every day, if possible—reading His Word. God’s hope for His children is that they will “remember my words with your whole being. Write them down and tie them to your hands as a sign; tie them on your foreheads to remind you.”
Reading the Bible regularly is important, but like any good habit, it takes a bit of work to realize and is not without a few early obstacles. But Lent is the perfect time to commit to making Scripture reading a daily practice, no matter how many times you may have tried and failed to do so in the past.
Because this is a topic close to our hearts, we at Bible Gateway have put together a number of resources you might find helpful in kickstarting a Bible reading habit. Take a look at our collection of Bible reading plans—note particularly the Readings for Lent and Easter, which is particularly appropriate for Lent. Each of these reading plans organizes the text of the Bible into manageable daily readings and is a good way to pace yourself as you make Bible reading a part of your daily routine. Note that several of these reading plans are available via email.
However you go about it, you’ll never regret spending more time in Scripture, and the Lenten season presents an excellent opportunity to finally make it happen.
The concept of self-denial is also central to Christian faith. Christians are called to refrain not just from thoughts and activities that are spiritually harmful, but from anything that is not beneficial to themselves and others; and to focus instead on what is true and praiseworthy.
As with other Lent observances, this is something Christians are expected to practice throughout the year, not just during Lent or holiday seasons. But for many Christians, Lent is a good opportunity to re-examine their lives to identify what unhelpful habits ought to be cut off.
But beyond refraining from indulging bad habits during Lent, many Christians choose to voluntarily deny themselves a particular activity or habit not because it’s spiritual harmful, but because the practice of self-denial echoes and calls attention to the Christian duty to consider our needs and desires less important than other people’s. The small pain of missing a comfortable daily habit reminds us of the real hardship experienced by Christ and the countless believers throughout history who have faced trials and deprivation on account of their faith.
So what sort of things might you consider “giving up” for Lent? For starters, Lent is as good a time as any to get serious about cutting off any spiritually unhealthy practices that have crept into your life. Beyond that, you can give up anything for Lent, big or small—anything from coffee to TV to fast food to internet use—as long as it’s something whose absence you will feel. The daily reminder of sacrifice, however small it may seem, is part of the Lent experience.
Beyond Lent and Easter
One of the wonderful things about Lent observances is that they have a way of sticking. If you stick to something for six straight weeks, chances are it’s well on its way to becoming a meaningful and healthy habit. You may reach the end of Lent to find that your Lenten acts of kindness have permanently changed your attitude about service; or that you really can live without a habit that had once seemed integral to your life; or that spending time in prayer now feels like such a natural part of your life that your day just wouldn’t feel right without it.
However you observe Lent, and even if you don’t, we hope that the journey to Easter is an opportunity for you to consider how your actions and attitudes echo (or don’t echo) those of Jesus Christ. And as Easter approaches, may you find yourself drawn closer and closer to the Savior to whom we are reconciled.