Lent is a season of forty (40) days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” This year (2019), we begin Lent on 6 March.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
You can read this in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.
Fasting & Praying
Many Christians during Lent will give up eating certain foods or other luxuries, to help them concentrate on God. This is also a reminder of the fact that Jesus did not eat for the forty days that he was in the wilderness. Many Christians will also set aside whole days of fasting and praying.
Fasting has been practiced for centuries within many different cultures and religions. The Christian tradition has its roots within the Jewish culture as found in the Old Testament. For example, Queen Esther calls upon the Jewish nation to come together in prayer and fasting,
‘Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4).
For Christians fasting and prayer often go hand in hand,
‘Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.’ (Acts 14)
Christians believe that the purpose of fasting is to take a person’s focus away from the things of the world and onto God. Fasting and prayer is believed to be a way a person gains a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
Fasting should never be used in order for a person to boast about their superior spirituality but it should be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’
Fasting is good, and God is pleased when we repent of sinful habits. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, repenting of sin is something we should be doing every day of the year, not just for the Lent period.
The key is to focus on repenting of sin and consecrating oneself to God. Lent should not be a time of boasting of one’s sacrifice or trying to earn God’s favor or increasing His love. God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is.