Recently, as friends discussed what they were giving up for Lent this year, and took part in Ash Wednesday services, I was lead to curiosity. As an individual who has never observed the Lenten tradition, I wanted to learn more as to what this practice is all about.
I began to inquire more about their practices and understandings. Some described this period as a time of self-examination; a time that allows someone a very physical reminder of their necessity for God throughout the day. For others, they viewed it as an opportunity to realign their heart with God. By taking away something they depend on (whether it be a basic physical need like food or something that is taking up their time negatively), they are challenged to transfer that dependence back on God.
I learned, similar to faith in general, that one’s practices with Lent are incredibly personal and are individualized to their needs and relationship with God. As to my understanding, Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial observed by Catholics and some Protestant faiths. It began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. It has over time developed a much more sacramental value. Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent they attain God’s blessing.
However, as a conservative evangelical, there were some hesitations that arose when learning of these practices. One was an individual’s tendency to boast of their sacrifice or try to earn God’s favor or increase his love for them through this process. God’s love for us could not be greater than it already is. The Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; “Grace is the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly, “When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it may not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting is not a way to seem more spiritual than others, it is to be done in a spirit of humility and joy. Lent/ fasting should not be a duty, but rather a celebration of God’s goodness and mercy to his children.
The theology of fasting is a theology of priorities in which believers are given the opportunity to express themselves in an undivided and intensive devotion to God and to the concerns of spiritual life. However, it’s important to remember that repentance is something we should be doing every day of the year, not just one focused period of time set aside each year. It’s a good, profitable and beneficial practice to set aside time and energy to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Additionally, God is pleased when we repent of our sinful habits, so I think that fasting and Lent are good things when approached in a respectful manner.
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