“Each year the season of Lent asks us to embrace a spiritual gravity, a downward movement of soul, a turning from our soul-sufficiency and sinfulness. In such quiet turning, we are humbled and thus made ready to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace.” Bobby Gross
Lent, not to be confused with lint (that fluffy stuff in your dryer vent or jean pockets), is a season within the Church calendar preparing our hearts for Easter. Similar to how Advent each December allows us to meditate on the incarnation leading up to Christmas Day, Lent gives us six weeks to consider Christ’s humility in the wilderness temptation and his human trials as we move towards Good Friday and Easter. During this season, the Christian follows Jesus by pursuing humility in our own life, believing he must come before us. As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Lent is a season to prepare our hearts for Christ’s victory won at the cross (Good Friday) and tomb (Easter). It’s a season of humble honesty about our sin and neediness so we can better trust rest in the person and work of Jesus on our behalf.Lent is “first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.”
Some primary rituals and rhythms of Lent include humility, confession and repentance, dependent prayer, Bible meditation, fasting and self-denial, and rehearsing the gospel. The Christian faith isn’t merely intellectual, but it’s also an embodied, lived out faith. That means the growing hunger of a growling stomach through fasting and prayer can teach us in felt ways about spiritual hunger, weakness, need, God’s provision, and what it means to be fed. These spiritual practices aim to create certain spiritual postures: humility, dependence and trust, and a hunger for God.
The gospel isn’t opposed to rituals, fasting, or self-denial, but it puts them in their proper place. We learn to say no to some things temporarily—even good things—so we can yes to what leads to thirsting after Jesus above all else. We make room for him by setting aside anything getting in the way or taking too high of a priority.
It’s not a time of penance where we pay for sin, prove our sincerity, or earn God’s favor. As self-examination leads to humble confession, it points us away from self-sufficiency and towards needing and trusting in Jesus. We might choose to fast or abstain from certain things, but we do so from a position of acceptance by God’s grace. Though humbled by our weakness, we find joy and hope by directing our gaze to the mighty and merciful Jesus.
Lent awakens us to our sinfulness and weakness, which ultimately humbles us and creates a desperate dependence. It leads us to Good Friday and Easter where we find that need and desire met through a perfectly righteous Savior who died to pay for our sins and rose to bring us new life. The bitterness of Lent makes the gospel sweet. Humility precedes exaltation. Confession makes room for joy. That’s what this season of preparation is about.
You can download our church’s Lent Reading & Fasting Guide here. It starts on Wednesday March 6th.
- Journey to the Cross by Will Walker
- The Passion of the King by Russ Ramsey
- The Glory of the Cross by Tim Chester
- Lenten Lights, devotional readings from desiringgod.org
- Lent: History, Cautions, and Benefits
- Thoughts about Lent by Michael Horton
Gross, Living the Christian Year, 127.
Lent stretches from “Ash Wednesday”to “Easter Sunday,” a total of 46 days (40 excluding Sundays). Jesus’ forty days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11) preceded his all-important temptation by Satan. It would not be his only temptation, but it was a pivotal moment where Jesus denied himself, depended on God, and resisted Satan’s attacks by choosing God’s will and Word. Because of his righteous life as the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus could then be a suffering savior for straying sinners. Wilderness prepares him for suffering, and temporary suffering makes way for ultimate victory.
Will Walker and Kendal Haug, Journey to the Cross (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017), Kindle version: Introduction.