On Wednesday, February 10, Christians around the world will observe Ash Wednesday, or the first day of the Season of Lent, which marks a special time of fasting, repentance and prayer.
In the Christian tradition, this forty-day period, which ends on Holy Thursday, is an opportunity to reflect on the sin in the world, the state of our hearts in relation to God, and the perfect atonement of Jesus Christ.
Meaning of Lent
While there is no specific mention of fasting before celebrating the resurrection of Christ in the Bible, the practice of repentance and mourning in sackcloth and ashes is found throughout the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel speaks of seeking the Lord for the release of his people from Babylonian exile with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:3).
The New Testament book of Matthew speaks of Jesus' period in the Judean Wilderness, where He spent 40 days and 40 nights in solitude, prayer, and fasting after He was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 4). Thus, the forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ...the better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God's will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts."
Traditions of Lent
For followers of Christ, Lent is a sacred time of prayer, soul-searching, repentance, and sacrifice. While we no longer mourn in sackcloth and ashes, Christians today focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something, paying more attention to the elderly, or volunteering and giving of themselves for others.
Other believers make personal vows of abstinence during this day, such as refraining from meat or chocolate, vowing not to gossip, or practicing greater humility.
In Matthew 6:16-18, which find instructions on how to appropriately observe Lent: "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
As you approach the season of Lent and prepare to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ, seek to focus more on your spiritual needs and less on your physical needs to better reflect on the cost of grace and the triumph of the empty tomb.
-Television, or your favorite show
-Gossip or destructive speech
-Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc)
-Selfishness and greed
-Volunteer at a homeless shelter
-Donate clothes, food, or money to a local charity
-Visit the elderly at a nursing home
-Make a meal for a friend in need
-Write a handwritten letter to a loved one
-Buy a stranger's groceries or coffee
-Take extra time before bed for prayer and reflection
-Call your far-away friends and family, instead of texting
-Memorize a Bible verse and repeat throughout the day
-Share the Gospel or your testimony with a stranger
Joel 2:12-14 - "Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing- grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.
Isaiah 58: 6-7 - Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Mark 7:7-9 - "They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions." And he continued, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
Colossians 2:16-17 - Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ."
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."