Should You and Your Family Observe Lent?

Here are some healthy ways you should observe Lent, as well as some ways you shouldn't.

Help your family decide whether the observance of Lent is right for you. Here are some healthy ways you should observe Lent, as well as some ways you shouldn't.

What exactly is Lent?

For some Christians, the word is a reminder of the mystery of the faith. It's a strong, compelling call to abandon self and to run to Christ. To others, it can be a painful religious memory of forced ritual. More specifically, though there are some variations regarding the observance of Lent, it can be simply defined as a period of time, lasting roughly six weeks, dedicated to the preparation of the believer for the celebration of Easter.

Typically, it can involve fasting, moderation, repentance and the practice of other spiritual disciplines. Most churches that corporately embrace the observance of Lent do so because they share a commitment to keeping the liturgical calendar. Within evangelicalism, its practice isn't nearly as prevalent since most churches in the evangelical tradition have little familiarity with the liturgical calendar.

Should you and your family observe Lent?

Some Christians who have difficulty embracing Lent do so for one of two reasons.

The first reason, and almost assuredly the most prevalent one, is ignorance about Lent. Predominantly, this encompasses those from an evangelical tradition, and if you find yourself in this tribe, you may find the observance of Lent to be curious.

The second reason, though, would be an objection to Lent for theological reasons, and those in this camp often view Lent as a threat to orthodox Christianity. A variety of charges could be made against the practice of Lent, not the least of which is the charge that keeping Lent is a rejection of the cross. In the cross, our sins are covered, and grace is bestowed on us because of God's benevolence alone, not due to any activity on our part.

Many who observe Lent do so in a desire to be penitent before God. However, many do so because they believe that their forgiveness is dependent, at some level, on their willingness to humble themselves before God as a form of penance, or self-punishment, in response to their sins. With all these things in mind, keeping Lent is something that can be perfectly acceptable—even helpful—for the Christian family, but it can also be devastatingly dangerous, if you aren't careful. Here are some healthy ways you should observe Lent, as well as some ways you shouldn't.

Celebrating Lent the Right Way

You and your family should consider observing Lent because it highlights and encourages elements of the Christian faith that are often undervalued and even forgotten. Fasting, moderation, repentance and the practice of the spiritual disciplines are things we need more of, not less. For the average Christian, these things rarely, if ever, seem to happen. Observing Lent by practicing these things, in an effort to remind us of the cross and push us toward it, can be a great thing.

For instance, fasting is a biblical expectation that has all but disappeared from the Christian experience. Jesus assumed that His disciples would fast.

"Whenever you fast, don't be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They've got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, so that you don't show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you".

Matthew 6:16-18

Not only did Jesus assume fasting, He believed that fasting was good for the soul. If fasting is challenging for you, observing Lent may be a good time to practice the discipline of fasting.

Repentance? Another biblical expectation. Step back, examine your heart, evaluate your sin and approach God in confession and repentance. Though repentance should be a consistent experience in the Christian life, it's true that we settle into spiritual ruts. Finding opportunity, then, to intentionally examine and respond can be lifegiving to your soul. Finally, the practice of the spiritual disciplines can be one of the most invigorating experiences in the Christian walk. Unfortunately, for far too many Christians, their walk before God is anything but disciplined.

Celebrating Lent the Wrong Way

If your observance of Lent is intended to garner you favor with God, you should abandon your observance of Lent. Saving grace isn't imparted through exercise or practice. There's nothing you can do—at any point—which will cause God to love you any more. He's been abundantly clear on this point.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace".

Ephesians 2:4-5

Additionally, once you've committed your life to Him and have been adopted into His family, there's no behavior in which you can engage that will cause Him to love you less. "Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

If you haven't grasped that, and your observance of Lent is intended to be a means of obtaining grace, or a method of garnering God's favor, then you've missed the point and should abandon its practice.

If your observance of Lent is mere ritual that you do for the sake of heritage, you should reconsider your observance of Lent. This is true of almost any voluntary Christian exercise, and something to which we're all prone. When you engage in something, with any level of consistency, you're prone to mindless repetition. You tend to repeat it because it's habit or because it may bring you some comfort due to previous experiences with the practice or even because you want tobe culturally acceptable. However, none of these are sufficient reasons to observe Lent.

You Decide

If your observance of Lent is a momentary spiritual exercise, and it doesn't spur you to intimacy with Christ all year, you should reconsider your observance of Lent. For too many, Lent, along with many other practices, may be an attempt to assuage their souls by engaging in a momentary Christian exercise. This is abundantly dangerous.

Your faith is intended to be a daily faith; a faith that's experienced moment-by-moment, day-by-day. When Lent is a time that encourages and strengthens that daily faithfulness, that's fantastic. However, if it's a means of applying a spiritual bandage to your soul, beware. It may actually serve to push you away from the experience of committed faith.

So should you observe Lent? Ultimately, Lent isn't the issue. Lent isn't inherently valuable, nor does it personally add spiritual value to you. It's little more than a tool—an observance—to point you toward Jesus or away from Him.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

Micah Fries is the vice president of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn., and is a frequent speaker in churches and conferences. He and his wife, Tracy, have two daughters and are members of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., where Micah serves as the associate pastor for teaching and mission.