“So, what are you doing for Lent?” probably still sounds strange coming from a Baptist. Lent was traditionally not observed by Baptists, but Baptist participation in Lenten practices has increased significantly in recent years. This is a good thing.
Lent is a season of self-examination, reflection, repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the Saturday before Easter. It is a season of forty days (to represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness), but Sundays are not counted in the forty days. All Sundays are a “mini-Easter,” in which we joyfully anticipate the Resurrection. So during Lent, fasts are typically lifted on Sundays.
Lent is usually associated with giving up things, but that’s certainly not the only way to focus ourselves on God. If you are considering what to do during Lent, here are 10 possibilities.
- Daily Bible reading from the Lectionary. Locust Grove is following the daily Lectionary readings at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=B. These carefully selected readings will deepen your sense of this season’s meaning, and reading as a church will deepen our common commitment to focus our lives on Christ.
- Abstain from a particular food. Seeing Lent as more than just fasting from particular foods has been valuable, but that does not mean this practice must be abandoned altogether. Giving up a favorite food during this season is not about punishing ourselves, or trying to earn special rewards. Rather, it reminds me that all I have comes from God. It is easy to take blessings for granted, so this reminder is important. So when we would normally reach for chips or candy, a deliberate effort to stop and instead think on the source of our blessings helps make us more grateful, and more intentional in our actions.
- Abstain from a particular habit. As with a food, abstaining from a practice does not mean it’s bad or wrong. It means we’re making a deliberate effort to arrange our life around God’s purposes. Time and energy are precious gifts from God, but we don’t always treat them like they are. If I am spending too much of those limited resources on one activity (maybe TV, social media, sports, or a hobby), Lent can assist me in better structuring my life around what is most important.
- Do something for someone outside your family. Lent is a great time to make an effort to do some of those things we feel we should do, but may put off. So, once a day, or once a week, find one kind act to do for others. Clean out a closet and donate the best things to charity, write a card to a neighbor who seems lonely, say an encouraging word to the clerk at the store or the help desk technician having a rough day, or sponsor a child in Guatemala. Lent invites us to move outside our comfort zones and be Christ in the world.
- Begin a study. If we’re Christian, it means we believe that following Jesus Christ is the solution to humanity’s deepest needs. And if we’re human, it means we’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of needs. Life, and people, are complicated. Lent is a great time to commit to learning how Christian thinking influences an area of life. Think of something that really matters to you (like family, marriage, parenting, dating, maturing) and then find a book, a podcast, or a Life Group studying it from a Christian perspective.
- Pray 5 minutes more. I don’t know how many people would say they pray as much as they should, but my guess is the percentage is pretty low. What if during Lent each of us prayed just five minutes more each day than we normally do? And used some of that time to focus on confession? Confession is always part of a healthy prayer life, but Lent is a particular time to reflect on our humanity. We make mistakes. We don’t live up to our ideals. We underestimate our selfishness, and overestimate our correctness. We are blessed that God’s grace extends to all these human realities, but that is why Christians can pursue the deep honesty that is necessary if we are to grow more Christ-like.
- Pray before ______. Think of something that really riles you up. Having to talk to that particular co-worker who really gets under your skin? Driving down Winchester Road in the morning? Reading the news? However you fill in the blank, take 30 seconds to pray before you start it. Pray that when you’re done, something good comes out of it. Ask for smiles, gentleness, and peace on the other side. Then watch what changes.
- Silence. There are two kinds of silence. One kind has to do with what goes on around us. The second kind has to do with what goes on inside us. We vary in how much we need silence, but all of us need some of both kinds. Noise makes it hard to hear messages. But we live in a world that generates a lot of noise, and we generate a lot ourselves. If we found 1 hour during each week of Lent to turn off all the sounds and distractions from outside, and turned down the noise from our inside, what meaning might we hear?
- Talk with the “other team.” We humans are prone to surround ourselves with others who talk and think like we do. Whether it’s about politics, theology, or other values, this is a comforting tendency. But the habit can have very negative consequences. Listening only to those on “our team” not only causes us to see the world from one increasingly narrow perspective, it makes it harder for us to see others as fully human children of God. In our increasingly divided society, truly engaging with the thought of others is an ever more necessary spiritual discipline. So once a week during Lent, read, listen to, or – best of all – have a real conversation with someone whose opinions you would usually avoid, and make a prayerful effort to understand why they see things that way.
- Pursue Consistency. Even if we don’t start something new during Lent, we can focus on consistency in our current practices. Whether it’s Bible reading, prayer, worship attendance, or Life Group participation, we can commit to being particularly faithful during this season. Don’t forget, we’re Baptists – we believe in full immersion. 🙂
Of course, what particular practices or combination of them will make this season a time of spiritual growth for you is dependent on the leading and pull of God’s Spirit. But I do believe there is something for each of us to do during Lent to grow. It is easy for our spiritual lives to become lax and dull, but intentional commitments for certain periods can refocus our hearts and lives. What better time for that than the season in which Jesus journeyed to the cross? As we move towards Easter and its celebration of God’s triumph over the powers of sin and death, we are called to take seriously the reality of our human frailty and weakness. Then we will even more seriously hear the Good News of the grace and love and abundant life revealed in Christ.
May we all be challenged and blessed. Sam