In the Christian calendar, there is no holiday more holy than Easter Sunday. Paul says the following in I Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what makes our faith meaningful, and, as Paul argues, it gives meaning and force to the Gospel message.
Throughout history, Christians have attempted to prepare themselves for Easter. This season of preparation has been called Lent. Lent is from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten (meaning “spring”) and lenctentid (“springtide”). Today, there is still much that we can gain by honoring the Lent season, both individually and as a family. Let's look together at some ways we can do that. But first, a biblical history lesson is in order.
There has traditionally been much symbolism packed into Lent. The most important symbolism is Jesus’ fasting for forty days and nights before he began his public ministry (see Mt. 4:2). Moses, also, practiced an extended fast when he was on the mountain: “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exodus 34:28). Moses’ fast points to Jesus’ fast; it points to Christ, the true “shekinah glory” of God.
We shouldn’t forget that Jesus didn’t just fast, he also prayed. Lent, then, has traditionally been a season of fasting so that we might pray better. Consider that both Jesus and Moses were fasting so that they might draw near to God. The ultimate purpose of Lent, then, is for us to train our spiritual muscles so that we might draw nearer to God.
Throughout Christian history, Easter was the time when people were baptized into the Christian church. Easter was chosen because it is resurrection—new life. Just as baptism signifies new life, Easter was considered to be the most symbolically meaningful time for baptism. As a season, then, Lent was historically the time when Christians would reaffirm their baptismal vows in preparation for Easter.
What does it mean to reaffirm our baptism? Ultimately, our baptism signifies our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11). To “renew” or reaffirm our baptism, then, would mean that we are reaffirming our hiddenness in Christ. The sinless Jesus—the perfect and spotless Son of God—found it necessary to fast and pray to prepare for his public ministry. If Jesus found it necessary to fast and pray in preparation for his public ministry, how much more might we need to fast and pray? Having a season devoted to deepening our relationship with Christ, and affirming our baptismal vows, helps to prepare us for the resurrection joy of Easter. Lent, then, is really a season of preparation.
The pairing of fasting and praying is quite commonly found in the Old and New Testaments. Consider, for example, Mark 9:29, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23, Nehemiah 1:4, Ezra 8:23, and Daniel 9:3-5. Fasting in the Bible is not an end in itself, but undertaken so that we might pray. In other words, fasting is intended to encourage prayer and deeper concentration upon, a sacrifice where we give up something so that we might better pray. Because this is an area of Christian liberty, I think that God would have us consider carefully and prayerfully what things we might sacrifice so that we might pray better. What things are obstacles to our prayer life?
One obvious example is giving up those time-wasters that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. Prioritizing our time anew, so that we set aside time for God is a wonderful way to engage in the “fast and pray” pairing. Here are some practical ideas for ways to “fast and pray” during Lent.
1. Have significant technology fasts in your family. But instead of just creating empty space, fill some of that space with devotional journaling. Get everyone a small journal (a simple 3 x 5 journal works just fine). Have passages everyone reads for the day and then use devotional time to do some journaling. Share thoughts from the devotional time around the table and pray together as a family.
2. Have a particular focus on the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Have a devotional focus on one or two fruits in your family for each week during the six weeks of Lent. Consider what sacrifice your family might make in order to make the fruit more meaningful. For instance, if the fruit were joy you might consider a strict and principled fast on any and all complaining. Have verses that focus on joy and then strictly enforce the “complaining fast.” Or if the fruit is kindness have verses that focus on kindness and the strictly enforce an “unkindness fast.”
It is extremely important, however, to remember Jesus’ stern warning about fasting and praying.
“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.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
If you feel called by God to engage in some form of Lenten discipline, remember, it ought to be undertaken simply to draw you nearer to God in your devotional life.