Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God (Ecumenical Thread)
Patheos ^ | Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Posted on 02/26/2012 11:20:08 AM PST by narses

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you acknowledge the source of this material: For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.


Introduction to Lent

Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I experienced Lent as little more than a joke. “What are you giving up for Lent?” my friends would ask. “Homework,” I’d say with a smirk, or “Obeying my parents.” Lent was one of those peculiar practices demanded of Roman Catholics – another great reason to be Protestant, I figured. It never even occurred to me that Lent was something I might actually be interested in, or benefit from, or decide to keep, or come to value as a way of getting to know God better.

In the last fifteen years I’ve discovered that Lent is in fact recognized by millions of Protestant Christians, in addition to Catholic and Orthodox believers. (The Eastern Orthodox Lent is longer than the Catholic or Protestant Lent, and it begins before Ash Wednesday.) Lent (the word comes from the Middle English word for “spring”) is a six-week season in the Christian year prior to Easter. (Technically, Lent comprises the 40 days before Easter, not counting the Sundays, or 46 days in total.)cross-lent-purple-drape-5.jpg

In the ancient church, Lent was a time for new converts to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in sin to focus on repentance. In time, all Christians came to see Lent as a season to be reminded of their need for penitence and to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Easter. Part of this preparation involved the Lenten “fast,” giving up something special during the six weeks of Lent (but not on Sundays, in some traditions.)

Historically, many Protestants rejected the practice of Lent, pointing out, truly, that it was nowhere required in Scripture. Some of these Protestants were also the ones who refused to celebrate Christmas, by the way. They wanted to avoid some of the excessive aspects of Catholic penitence that tended to obscure the gospel of grace. These Protestants saw Lent, at best, as something completely optional for believers, and, at worst, as a superfluous Catholic practice that true believers should avoid altogether.

A Pastoral Word: Let me note, at this point, that if you think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by your good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a theological problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace. If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.

Some segments of Protestantism did continue to recognize a season of preparation for Easter, however. Their emphasis was not so much on penitence and fasting as on intentional devotion to God. Protestant churches sometimes added special Lenten Bible studies or prayer meetings so that their members would be primed for a deeper experience of Good Friday and Easter. Lent was a season to do something extra for God, not to give something up.

After ignoring Lent for the majority of my life, I’ve paid more attention to it during the last two decades. Sometimes I’ve given up something, like watching television or eating sweets, in order to devote more time to Bible study and prayer. (The television fast was especially tough because I love watching March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament, on TV.) Sometimes I’ve added extra devotional reading to my regular spiritual disciplines. I can’t claim to have had any mystical experiences during Lent, but I have found that fasting from something has helped me focus on God. It has also helped me to look ahead to Good Friday and Easter, thus appreciating more deeply the meaning of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. Before I began honoring Lent, Good Friday and Easter always seemed to rush by before I could give them the attention they deserved. Now I find myself much more ready to meditate upon the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and to celebrate his victory over sin and death on Easter.

Let me be very clear: Lent is not a requirement for Christians. Dallas Willard has said that if a certain spiritual discipline helps you grow in God’s grace, then by all means do it. But if it doesn’t, don’t feel like you must do it. I’d say the same about Lent. If it helps you prepare for a deeper celebration of Good Friday and Easter, if it allows you to grow in God’s grace, then by all means keep it. If Lent isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t feel obligated to keep it. You should realize, however, that millions of Christians – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Independent – have found that recognizing the season of Lent enriches our worship and deepens our faith in God.

In my next post in this series I’ll consider some of the symbolism of Lent, and suggest some possible Lenten practices to help you keep the season.

Do You Have to Give Up Something for Lent?

I grew up hearing about Catholics who had to fast during the season of Lent. No meat on Fridays, only fish. This, you must understand, was a costly sacrifice in the cafeteria of Glenoaks Elementary School! The fact that my Catholic friends had to give up decent food in Lent always seemed to me to be one more good reason to be a Protestant. (Photo: I expect that the Lent Promo at the Luby’s in Kerrville is much better than my elementary school’s cafeteria rations.)

But, in the past fifteen years or so, I’ve sometimes decided to join my Catholic sisters and brothers in giving up something during Lent. This means, depending on how you count the days of Lent, fasting from something for about six weeks. (Officially in the Western world, Lent comprises the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. But many traditions do not count the Sundays during this period as belonging to Lent. Thus Lent covers 46 days, but only 40 days belong to the Lenten fast.)

People in my theological tradition (the Reformed tradition, pioneered by John Calvin) tend not to emphasize Lenten fasting. Partly this had to do with the conscious rejection of Roman Catholic practices that were not clearly based on Scripture. Lent is not prohibited in Scripture. But it isn’t taught there either. One can be a faithful, biblical Christian and never recognize Lent. So, in days gone by, many Reformed folk and other Protestants who wanted to make the season before Easter special in some way, chose instead to add a spiritual discipline to their lives as a way of preparing for Easter. It’s quite common today for churches that don’t have midweek Bible studies, for example, to offer a Lenten Wednesday Evening Study or something like this. Special Lenten spiritual retreats are also increasingly common in Protestant in addition to Roman Catholic circles.

But fasting still plays a prominent role in Lenten practices of many Christians across the denominational and theological spectrum. Throughout church history there have been different kinds of Lenten fasts. Nobody, to my knowledge, expected anyone to give up all food for the whole season. In the Middle Ages it was common for Christians to give up certain sorts of food, like meat and/or dairy products, for example. This explains why, in my youth, Catholics abstained from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Many Catholics still observe this discipline. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lenten fast is taken even more seriously than in the Roman Catholic church, with many Orthodox folk eating vegetarian meals during the season.

In recent years I have sometimes given up something in Lent, perhaps chocolate or watching television. The latter was particularly hard because I enjoy college basketball, and March Madness (the NCAA bastketball tournament) always falls in the middle of Lent. This year I have decided to give up something I enjoy. I’ve also adopted an additional daily spiritual discipline. It don’t think it would be appropriate for me to speak in detail about what I’m doing at this time. But I would like to share some reflections on what I’ve been learning through my version of a Lenten fast.

What I’ve Learned by Fasting During Lent

First, giving up something allows me to make a tangible sacrifice to the Lord. Although certain sacrifices are already present in my life, they’re sort of “built in” at this point. I don’t often experience giving up something for God on a daily basis. The act of sacrifice reminds me of my commitment to God and my desire to make him first in my life.

Second, by giving up something I usually enjoy on a daily basis, I have sometimes found myself yearning for that thing. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to give up my Lenten fast at times. I could easily argue that it’s unnecessary (it is optional, after all) and certainly not taught in Scripture. But, though I don’t think my effort at fasting makes God love or bless me more, I do think it raises my awareness of how much I depend on other things in life rather than the Lord. I see how easy it is for me to set up all sorts of little idols in my life. Fasting, in some way, helps me surrender my idols to God.

Third, when I give up something I like and then feel an unquenched desire for it, I’m reminded of my neediness as a person. And neediness, I believe, is at the heart of true spirituality. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . .
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”                                                                                      Matthew 5:3, 6

Of course feeling hungry for one of life’s pleasures isn’t quite the same as hungering and thirsting for righteousness. But when I feel my hunger, when I sense my neediness for some other thing, I can use this to get in touch with my hunger and need for God.

Fourth, as I continue with my Lenten fast, I find myself less eager for the thing I’ve given up. Ironically, this makes my fast easier. It’s almost something I can take for granted, thus dulling the spiritual impact of the fast. But I’m also gratified to know that one of my little “idols” is being set aside in my heart, as I learn to depend more upon God. I’m experiencing a bit of freedom that makes me gladly thankful for God’s grace at work in me.

Adding a Lenten Discipline

Instead of or in addition to fasting during Lent, you might add a spiritual exercise or discipline to your life. If your church sponsors a Lenten Bible study, you might choose to join this study. Or you may want to participate in some act of kindness, such as feeding people at a homeless shelter.

I like to add something that I can do every day. It needs to be realistic, given my nature and patterns of life. So, for example, it would be a bad idea if I decided to get up at 5:00 a.m. to pray for an hour each day of Lent. This would stretch me so far that I’d surely fail. But I could take on additional Bible reading. Some years I’ve read one chapter of a gospel each day of Lent, taking it in slowly and meditating upon it. Other years I’ve used a Lenten devotional to focus my thought.

If you have no idea what to do during Lent, let me suggest the following. Set aside some time of quiet to as the Lord what he wants you to do. See if the Spirit of God guides you to something. If nothing comes to mind, I’d recommend that you read a chapter of a gospel each day. If you start with Mark, you’ll have time to read all of Mark plus all of one other gospel during Lent.

Perhaps some of my readers would like to suggest Lenten disciplines that they have tried in the past, and how they have experienced God’s grace through these exercises.

So, as we enter the season of Lent, I am grateful for the saints who have gone before me, some of whom discovered the blessings of giving up something in Lent, while others grew in their faith by adding a Lenten discipline. No matter what you do during this Lenten season, I pray that God will draw us closer to him, and prepare us for a fresh experience of Good Friday and Easter. May God’s peace be with You!

TOPICS: Apologetics; Current Events; Ecumenism

1 posted on 02/26/2012 11:20:12 AM PST by narses
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: narses; lilycicero; MaryLou1; glock rocks; JPG; VinceASA; Monkey Face; RIghtwardHo; ...

Ecumenic threads are closed to antagonism.
To antagonize is to incur or to provoke hostility in others.
Unlike the “caucus” threads, the article and reply posts of an “ecumenic” thread can discuss more than one belief, but antagonism is not tolerable.

More leeway is granted to what is acceptable in the text of the article than to the reply posts. For example, the term “gross error” in an article will not prevent an ecumenical discussion, but a poster should not use that term in his reply because it is antagonistic. As another example, the article might be a passage from the Bible which would be antagonistic to Jews. The passage should be considered historical fact and a legitimate subject for an ecumenic discussion. The reply posts however must not be antagonistic.

Contrasting of beliefs or even criticisms can be made without provoking hostilities. But when in doubt, only post what you are “for” and not what you are “against.” Or ask questions.

Ecumenical threads will be moderated on a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” basis. When hostility has broken out on an “ecumenic” thread, I’ll be looking for the source.

Therefore “anti” posters must not try to finesse the guidelines by asking loaded questions, using inflammatory taglines, gratuitous quote mining or trying to slip in an “anti” or “ex” article under the color of the “ecumenic” tag.

Posters who try to tear down other’s beliefs or use subterfuge to accomplish the same goal are the disrupters on ecumenic threads and will be booted from the thread and/or suspended.

Ecumenic threads.
Who can post? Anyone
What can be posted? Articles that are reasonably not antagonistic. Reply posts must never be antagonistic.

What will be pulled? Antagonistic reply posts. If the article is inappropriate for an ecumenic discussion, the tag will be changed to open.

Who will be booted? Antagonists

2 posted on 02/26/2012 11:24:04 AM PST by narses
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: narses

In order to bring my human nature into more discipline, one Lent I gave up yelling at bad drivers. There are plenty of them here in LA, and the sacrifice was very real.

One Lent the Lord had me make a list of all the people I currently hated — (deep in my little black heart, of course, not in active and aggressive hostility). I narrowed it down to 5 or so, but prayed for them every day. A month or so after Easter, our parish had a church picnic. One of the ‘people I hated’ was there. I went up to her and mentioned, casually, that I had been praying for her. She said, “Oh, thank you! and do keep on.’ She had been having a really hard Spring, and especially had been convicted about her rude mouth (which had precipitated her being on my list in the first place).

It was a very moving challenge the Lord had given me.

3 posted on 02/26/2012 1:47:49 PM PST by bboop (Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers? St. Augustine)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: bboop
It was a very moving challenge the Lord had given me.
Every year Lent reminds me, again and again, how truly Blessed we are, how very much He gives us and how often I let Him down.
4 posted on 02/26/2012 1:52:01 PM PST by narses
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: narses
How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God (Ecumenical Thread)
A Call from the FSSP French District: offer up your Lent for Catholic Unity [Catholic Caucus]
A Call from the FSSP French District: offer up your Lent for Catholic Unity [Catholic Caucus]
On the 40 Days of Lent
Christians Tailor Lent Outside Catholic Traditions
Christians Tailor Lent Outside Catholic Traditions
Lent, A Time to Shoulder Our Christian Responsibilities
Consecrate this Lent to Jesus through Mary, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [Catholic Caucus]
Opinion: Lent for Baptists [Ekoomenikal]

Ash (or Clean) Monday - Lent Begins (for some Catholics) - February 20, 2012
[Why I Am Catholic]: Lent And Holy Week (A Primer) [Catholic Caucus]
Lent, A Time to Give from the Heart [Catholic caucus}
Learning the beatitudes during Lent -- use your Rosary to learn the Beatitutdes [Catholic Caucus]
Lenten Ember Days: March 16th, 18th, and 19th, 2011 (Catholic/Orthodox Caucus)
St. Vincent Ferrer - Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent [Ecumenical]
Pope describes ‘Lenten road’ that leads to renewal
St. Andrew of Crete, Great Canon of Repentance - Tuesday's portion (Orthodox/Latin Caucus)
The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (Monday's portion) [Orth/Cath Caucus]
Penance and Reparation: A Lenten Meditation(Catholic/Orthodox Caucus)
For Lent - Top 10 Bible Verses on Penance
Cana Sunday: Entrance into Great Lent
2011 Catechetical Homily on the opening of Holy and Great Lent
8 Ways to Pray During Lent [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Baptists, Lent, and the Reformation Rummage Sale
So What Shall We Do during These Forty Days of Lent? [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Lenten Traditions (Catholic Caucus)
Are You Scrupulous? A Lenten Homily by John Cardinal O’Connor
Blow the Trumpet! Call the Assembly! The Blessings of Fasting
Lenten Challenges

Lent and the Catholic Business Professional (Interview)
Temptations Correspond to Our Vulnerabilities: Biblical Reflection for 1st Sunday of Lent
A Lenten “Weight” Loss Program
On the Lenten Season
Lent 2010: Pierce Thou My Heart, Love Crucified [Catholic Caucus]
US seminarians begin Lenten pilgrimage to Rome's ancient churches
Conversion "is going against the current" of an "illusory way of life"[Pope Benedict XVI for Lent]
vanity] Hope you all make a good Lent [Catholic Caucus]
Lent -- Easter 2010, Reflections, Prayer, Actions Day by Day
Stational Churches (Virtually visit one each day and pray)
40 Ways to Get the Most Out of Lent!
What to Give Up (for Lent)? The List
On the Spiritual Advantages of Fasting [Pope Clement XIII]
Christ's temptation and ours (Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent)
Pope Benedict XVI Message for Lent 2010 (Feb 15 = Ash Monday & Feb 17 = Ash Wednesday)
Whatever happened to (Lenten) obligations? [Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving]Archbishop John Vlazny
Vatican Presents Lenten Website: LENT 2009
A Scriptural Way of the Cross with Meditations by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (Lenten Prayer/Devotional)
Prayer, Fasting and Mercy by St. Peter Chrysologus, Early Church Father [Catholic Caucus]
History of Lent (Did the Church always have this time before Easter?)

Beginning of Lent
Lent (Catholic Encyclopedia - Caucus Thread)
At Lent, let us pray for the Pope (Muslim converts ask us to pray for the pope)
Daily Lenten Reflections 2009
LENTEN STATIONS [Stational Churches for Lent] (Catholic Caucus)
40 Days for Life campaign is now under way (February 25 - April 5]
This Lent, live as if Jesus Christ is indeed Lord of your life
Reconciliation, forgiveness, hope – and Lent
Intro to Fast and Abstinence 101
Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself (with Scriptural references)
40 Ways to Improve Your Lent
Everything Lent (Lots of links)
The Best Kind of Fasting
Getting Serious About Lent
Lent Overview
Meditations on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ [Devotional]
On Lent... and Lourdes (Benedict XVI's Angelus address)
Lent for Newbies
Lent -- 2008 -- Come and Pray Each Day
Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself

Lenten Workshop [lots of ideas for all]
Lent and Reality
Forty Days (of Lent) [Devotional/Reflections]
Pope Benedict takes his own advice, plans to go on retreat for Lent
GUIDE FOR LENT - What the Catholic Church Says
Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2008
40 Days for Life: 2008 Campaigns [Lent Registration this week]
Vatican Web Site Focuses on Lent
Almsgiving [Lent]
Conversion Through Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving [Lent]
Lenten Stations -- Stational Churches - visit each with us during Lent {Catholic Caucus}
Something New for Lent: Part I -- Holy Souls Saturdays
Reflections for Lent (February, March and April, 2007)
Lent 2007: The Love Letter Written by Pope Benedict
Pre-Lent through Easter Prayer and Reflections -- 2007
Stations of the Cross [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
For study and reflection during Lent - Mind, Heart, Soul [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast-Family observance Lenten season [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Pre-Lenten Days -- Family activities-Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)[Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
40 Ways to Get the Most Out of Lent! [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]

Lenten Fasting or Feasting? [Catholic Caucus]
Pope's Message for Lent-2007
THE TRUE NATURE OF FASTING (Catholic/Orthodox Caucus)
The Triduum and 40 Days
The Three Practices of Lent: Praying, Fasting. Almsgiving
Why We Need Lent
Lent a Time for Renewal, Says Benedict XVI
Why You Should Celebrate Lent
Getting the Most Out of Lent
Lent: A Time to Fast >From Media and Criticism Says President of Pontifical Liturgical Institute
Give it up (making a Lenten sacrifice)
The History of Lent
The Holy Season of Lent -- Fast and Abstinence
The Holy Season of Lent -- The Stations of the Cross
Lent and Fasting
Mardi Gras' Catholic Roots [Shrove Tuesday]
Kids and Holiness: Making Lent Meaningful to Children
Ash Wednesday
All About Lent

5 posted on 02/26/2012 2:29:03 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Salvation


6 posted on 02/26/2012 3:31:10 PM PST by narses
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson