A common question, especially for Protestant Christians is, “How does this season apply to me?” After all, nowhere in the Bible is Ash Wednesday talked about, nor is Lent mentioned, and there is no biblical mandate for the Christ-follower to engage in it. While there are biblical roots to the elements of this season, Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season rituals have been traditionally passed down from the Catholic Church along with other liturgical religious groups who make this observance a priority among their constituents. So, since we are not Catholic, what is the benefit for us? Well, let’s start with the intent of this season.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the purpose of Lent during the 40 days prior to Easter, is for individuals to participate in the disciplines of prayer, fasting and “alms-giving” or charity and justice toward your neighbor. Let’s be honest. I don’t think anyone who claims to be a Christian would argue that these three disciplines aren’t biblical. No one would argue that having a consistent prayer focus is a bad idea, right? Fasting is a practice that is seen and encouraged throughout scripture, and one embraced by Jesus Himself, so again, I think it’s safe to say that this one is okay too. What about charity and justice toward our neighbor? Again, I don’t believe we need to spend a lot of time defending these disciplines and ideals, do we? So…why don’t we all observe Ash Wednesday and Lent every year?
Many Protestant Christians do not like to engage in ritual because…well, its ritual. Their rationale comes from passages like Psalm 51:16-17, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” It’s quite true, that God is more concerned with our heart than He is with our ritual. The problem for most Christians though, is we don’t give Him either one!
We justify not participating in ritual by claiming that God is more concerned with our heart – so we don’t need to fake it through ritualistic, rote practices that mean nothing the “next day.” While I agree, my question would then be, “Where is your heart?” Are you REALLY coming before God consistently with a spirit that is broken over your sinfulness and a contrite heart that is ready to allow God to reign within you, or are you just using that as an excuse?
If you are truly seeking to be like Jesus in every area of life – your prayer life is vibrant and consistent, you are willing to give up anything that gets in the way of you and Jesus, and you are actively serving the needs of those around you in Jesus name – then by all means keep doing this and don’t worry about observing Lent. You don’t need it – to God be the glory! Chances are though, there are some believers – new, growing, or some who have become complacent, who struggle with these regular disciplines and they honestly don’t know where to start embracing them as a regular part of their daily faith journey.
That being said…maybe participating in some “seasonal reminders” would help move your heart and spirit toward becoming more contrite and broken before God. Is it possible that focusing for a time on consistent prayer, fasting (whether that’s giving up food, your TV or “Angry Birds” for a while) and being generous toward those who are less fortunate than you and serving others in the name of Jesus could actually be a good thing? Obviously, my hope, and hopefully yours as well, is that it won’t just last for 40 days, but become a part of your daily life as a Christ-follower.
Truly, Jesus wants us to live life yielded to His presence and engaged in His mission every single day – not just for 40. The spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting, as well as charity and justice toward our neighbor are qualities that should flow out of a Christ-follower’s life on a consistent basis. But maybe, just maybe the Lenten season would be a good time for you to begin working on embracing these disciplines as a part of your walk with Christ. Rather than finding a reason not to observe a “ritual”, maybe you should embrace the opportunity to build a little bit of discipline into your life…who’s knows? Maybe it’ll last…