“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Today, across the world, millions of people spanning numerous racial and cultural boundaries will gather to commemorate Ash Wednesday, the start of the period of Lent in the liturgical year. From now until Easter Sunday, faithful followers of Christ from all over the face of the earth will begin preparation for the Holy Week in penitence through prayer, repentance, fasting, and various other worshipful practices. But where will the evangelicals be? Traditionally, very few evangelical denominations observe Lent (or any other events of the liturgical calendar outside of Christmas and Easter). This is saddening. The liturgical calendar presents a plethora of opportunities for the Church to worship the Lord in a variety of manners throughout the year, effectively encouraging the Christ follower to encounter God in new and enriching ways. The practice of penitence during the period of Lent is one such way.
Followers of Christ from more traditional backgrounds (Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, et. al) observe Lent in various ways. Generally the believer is encouraged to give up certain luxuries as an act of penitence that will draw her closer to God during this time of dedication. Some give up soda, some dessert items, while others video games or watching television. Many also choose to fast, laying aside a normal diet and adopting meals without meat or laying aside meals altogether (particularly on designated days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). However the observant choose to do so, the heart of the practice is to draw nearer to God and prepare both mentally and spiritually for the pinnacle of all worship times throughout the year: the weeklong celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Far too often do I find myself lulled into a lackadaisical worship routine that is neither a presentable offering to the Lord nor a time of personal spiritual maturation. I grow tired of doing the same thing week in and week out to the point where I am no longer cognizant and active in what I am actually doing, instead merely “going through the motions” (Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner). Observing Lent allows me to break up the monotony and enjoy communing with the Lord in a special, set apart way as I prepare for the time of remembering all that he has done for me through his death, burial, and resurrection. I would encourage you also, if you have never done so before or have been doing so since the year you were born, to set apart the next forty non-feast days (Sundays) to meet with God in a different way than usually and pray that the Spirit will give you a heart of penitence as you prepare for the Holy Week. You do not have to be a Lutheran, Anglican, or Roman Catholic to do it (though it is quite enriching to follow the traditional practices of Lent as they do). In whatever way you may choose to observe the Lenten period, do it in remembrance of Christ who also set apart forty days to commune with his Father and prepare for all that was to come in his ministry on earth.
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD,
‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.’
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.”
-Joel 2:12, 13