Growing up in a south Indian Christian family, I had seen several family members fastidiously observe Lent. While my extended family did not seem particularly religious the rest of the year, my uncles and cousins would make an impressive effort to give up meat, alcohol, and sugar for the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
As a teenager I learned the truth of God’s Word and knew that it was not good works that won God’s favour, nor rules and regulations that earned us a spot in heaven. As Lent seemed to fall in the “rules and regulations” category, I did not subscribe to this “man-made tradition” that the Bible did not explicitly prescribe. I veered to the side of flippantly dismissing Lent like one mocked Valentine’s Day for being a Hallmark holiday.
As I got older, however, I realised that setting aside the period of Lent to intentionally seek God in repentance and recommitment was not about earning one’s salvation but about preparing one’s heart for the miracle of Easter.
I began to celebrate Lent by fasting from social media—as has been the trend among Christians for a few years—and meditating on Scripture, particularly reflecting on the gruesomeness of the cross and the greatness of God’s love revealed in Christ laying down his life to rescue, redeem, and restore us.
Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word for ‘Spring’ where the days lengthen, giving one more time in the sun. Similarly as we “lengthen” the time we spend in the presence of the Son, the Holy Spirit awakens our hearts to the glory of the gospel.
If you are on the fence about whether to observe Lent or not, consider how this spiritual discipline might bolster your faith walk.
Observing Lent Can Steer Us to a Place of Brokenness
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day which may seem obscure and confusing to many. If you went to a Catholic school in India, as I did, someone probably smeared ashes on your forehead and you probably wanted to wipe it off as soon as possible. But Scripture shows ashes represents grief over sin.
In the book of Job, we see Job sitting in dust and ashes as a sign of repentance (Job. 42:6). The rich symbolism of Ash Wednesday reminds us of our own fragility and humanness—that we are dust and will return to dust (Gen. 3:19).
When we stop drinking from the broken cisterns of the world, we gain a heightened awareness that our deep thirst can only be quenched by the Living Water
In our contemporary Christian culture where the self is often the focus of social-media posts and even sermons at church, Lent steers us to the cross where we contemplate our fallenness, finiteness and frailty. We echo the words of Job and say, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” But the story doesn’t end in ashes.
Lent gives us the opportunity to move from brokenness to hope as we shift our gaze from the cross to the empty tomb. The ashes are smeared in the shape of a cross—redemption is already here.
Observing Lent Can Reveal Our Heart Idols and Our True Need
We observe Lent by fasting from something we automatically gravitate toward—alcohol, chocolate, coffee, meat, screen time, video games, music apps, or social media. By intentionally cutting ourselves off from the things that temporarily satisfy, we confront the fact that we may have created insidious idols of them.
As Tim Keller points out: “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”
When we stop drinking from the broken cisterns of the world, we gain a heightened awareness that our deep thirst can only be quenched by the Living Water (Jer. 2:13). Instead of being quick to slap on a temporary fix, whether it is chocolate or the distraction of a television show, fasting during Lent helps us understand only the one true God can meet our needs.
Observing Lent Can Prepare Us for the Joy of Easter
Easter in India has been commercialised and westernised to include chocolate bunnies, sugary eggs, and marzipan candy. Lent refocuses our attention on the wonder of the empty tomb.
After weeks spent on meditating on the Jesus’s cries in the garden of Gethsemane, the indignities and torture he endured, the abandonment and betrayal he faced, the depravity of our sin which he bore, and the separation from the Father that he experienced on our behalf, Lent breaks the ground of our hearts for the glory of the resurrection.
The resurrection is not merely an occasion to celebrate. It is the very core of our faith. Without the empty tomb, our faith would be empty. Lent gives us the space to let the miraculous wonder of Easter capture our hearts and move us to a place of recommitting our lives for his glory.
Without the empty tomb, our faith would be empty.
After Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days, he began his earthly ministry. In those weeks in the desert, as a man, Jesus experienced hunger, loneliness, and temptation as the enemy tried to make him fall. Yet Jesus remained without sin and poured out his life even unto death.
Observing Lent is not easy. We may experience “withdrawal symptoms” from whatever our “fix” may be. But Jesus shows us the way, particularly through his steadfastness and faithfulness in the wilderness.
If this is your first time celebrating Lent, start small. Recognise that this is not a rule to follow but a response to what Jesus has done for you on the cross. Pray about what you can give up or fast from for the season of Lent. Consider how you can redirect your time and affections through immersing yourself in the Word and in prayer.
As we reflect on the wondrous Cross where the Prince of glory died, may we be moved to declare, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”