What Is Lent and Why Do Christians Practice It?

March 11, 2019

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. On the calendar that’s a span of 46 days. However, the six Sundays that fall within that span are not counted, which means there are 40 official days of Lent. Those 40 days represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and preparing for His public ministry.

For Christians, the season of Lent is a time to prepare for Easter. It’s a time for us to examine ourselves and repent; a time to pray, fast, and deny ourselves; a time to read and meditate on God’s Word.

Lent is a time of great reverence, punctuated by six “mini-Easter” Sundays. During these six interludes, a spirit of joy leavens our solemn observance as we anticipate Christ’s resurrection.

Here are three things to keep in mind as the season of Lent approaches.

Surrender Is Key to Understanding Lent

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Heavenly Father. He taught His disciples to surrender when they prayed to God, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Jesus understood better than anyone that surrendering to God’s will is not an easy thing to do. As the events leading to His arrest unfolded, surrender became more and more difficult. The cross loomed—and, with it, unimaginable suffering.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus poured out His anguish to His Heavenly Father. He even asked that the cup of suffering be taken away from Him. And then He followed it up with the ultimate words of surrender: “nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ attitude of obedient surrender was key to God’s plan of salvation. It was also an example for His people to follow.

Lent Is a Communal Experience

In the season of Lent, Christians throughout the world answer the call to surrender. Believers from a variety of denominations and backgrounds—people who have little in common aside from their devotion to Christ—unite in self-reflection to prepare for Easter Sunday. The ways in which they choose to mark the Lent season may differ, but in their commitment to denying themselves and surrendering to God, they share common ground. Lent inspires a powerful spirit of unity among Christ’s followers.

Lent Is an Intensely Personal Experience

Even though “I’m giving it up for Lent” has become a punch line of sorts in our culture, Lent is not a season for commiserating in misery. Everyone who observes Lent does so in an individual manner. Each person charts a unique 40-day spiritual regimen. Many people choose to deny themselves something they love for the duration of the season as they surrender themselves to God.

Whatever we choose to give up—whether it’s chocolate, meat, social media, or something else—the fact that we’re giving it up is a private matter between ourselves and God. No one else needs to know. In fact, no one else should even notice what we’re doing. Jesus Himself said so.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matt. 6:16–18)

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For additional reading, check out this article on Jesus’ Seven “I Am” Statements.

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