This is Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent. It’s a holiday that’s typically approached and celebrated—if it’s celebrated at all—with a somber air because those who observe it do so to start a season of making sacrifices.
It’s easy to see why forty days of fasting would garner less attention and popularity than holidays that involve gifts. But the whole purpose of Lent, which we often forget, is to prepare Christians spiritually for the joy of Easter. And the entire Christian faith rests upon the Easter story; that Jesus conquered death.
This miracle of Easter is the source of all our hope and joy not only in this life, but also in the life to come. With that in mind, preparing for Easter throughout Lent is not meant to be a burden, but a season ripe with expectation of the new life that emerges as people draw near to Jesus.
1 Chronicles 16:11 (NLT) says, “Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given.”
The purpose behind Lent is to seek the Lord and to remember what He has done. It may sound simple enough, but the history of God’s people is a pattern of forgetting, turning away, and eventually being restored to relationship with God—often through painful circumstances.
Almost as soon as God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they began complaining. God had displayed his power and care through awesome miracles. He even parted the sea so they could escape over dry ground, yet the Israelites quickly lost faith and were consumed with worry—forgetting that God was powerful enough to save them from any threat. So rather than leading them directly into the good land He promised to give them, God sent them wandering through the wilderness. Yet even as they were wandering, the Israelites continued to forget everything that had happened. They frequently turned away from God and He had to continually call them back to Himself again.
After 40 years of wandering, when God was finally ready to bring them into the good land He promised, He spoke to them again through Moses. He warned, as recorded in Deuteronomy 8:1-18, MSG):
“Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits…He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna…so that you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same was a father disciplines his child.
“So it’s paramount that you keep the commandments of God, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. God is about to bring you into a good land…
“Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don’t become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, your God, the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery; the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness.”
We are like the Israelites: prone to fall into that same pattern of forgetfulness. We are easily distracted. We are so forgetful. And we so often wander off the well-marked path that He has laid out for us.
The Hope: Living Lent
Mankind needs reminders—whether those are memorials, disciplines or holidays—to bring us back to God and keep us close. God keeps telling us, “Remember what I have done. Don’t forget Me! Trust Me and follow Me.” If we will only stay near Him, He will lead us into a place of underserved blessing.
The Lenten season offers a wonderful opportunity to reset your way of life, and to do so in the context of supportive community. We need to remind each other to turn back to God, and we need to draw near to Him together, so that we might discover our parts within the epic story God is writing. Make this your time to do whatever it takes to deepen your relationship with the God of the Universe, who loves you dearly and even gave up His life so that you might live.
Fasting is an effective tool to draw us closer to God, if done in the right spirit. But "giving up" this or that will do absolutely nothing useful if your mind and heart are not actively searching and listening to Christ. The purpose of fasting is to draw our focus to what’s important. Fasting from food is perhaps most common because physical hunger can’t easily be ignored or forgotten. When you fast from food, your hunger serves as a reminder to seek God.
It can also be extremely helpful to take a break from things or activities that may be distracting you from reading the Bible or approaching God in prayer. If the television, social media, a book series, or even deep cleaning your home has taken priority over spending time with God, why not fast from it for a while?
Pick something that is a “go-to” for you (like your morning coffee) to fast from. That way, every time you instinctively reach for it, you’ll be reminded of what is most important. The key is to not just be reminded of God, but to actively seek Him. Use the time you would have spent on the computer to dig into scripture, pray, or reflect on ways God has proven Himself faithful in your life.
Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, God has more planned for you; more joy awaiting you. He wants to fill your heart, mind and soul with a deeper understanding of his love and peace. Aimless wandering will not take you to God's intended place of blessing for you. Actively seeking Him will.