Repentance. Renewal. Recommitment. Revival. These are all key words to the forty-day season of Lent, a time of preparation that leads to Holy Week and the great day of resurrection, Easter.
Why forty days? This season of repentance comes out of a biblical notion of the number 40, a number that symbolizes fullness or the amount of time a task needs to be completed. It’s most commonly connected with Christ’s journey into the wilderness after his baptism to fast and pray before starting his full-on earthly ministry. But the number 40 also frequently pops up earlier in the Word. The great flood lasted forty days and nights. Moses, and later Elijah, dwelt at Horeb for the same amount of time. Eli judged Israel for forty years. Saul, David, and Solomon each are thought to have had reigns over Israel for forty years.
In the early church it was also a time of fasting and prayer for new converts to prepare for their baptisms. It was an intense time for new Christians – a time of testing whether they really meant what they said when professing belief in Christ. At the end they were born into new life, by water and the Spirit. It is out of this early cycle that our season of Lent has come to us today.
The contemporary church has most gravitated toward the need to ‘give something up’ for Lent – the fast. We usually focus on small things like chocolate or sodas. Or we add things in, like exercise. Or maybe we check things off our New Year’s resolution list. But we sometimes forget that when we fast there’s another thing that’s supposed to happen – we’re supposed to pray.
The fast itself is what needs the rethinking in our churches today. When we fast, the intent is to make room. But we’re not called to make room for just anything. We’re supposed to make room for prayer; it’s a time for us to draw closer to the Lord. We’re supposed to fast and pray like those new Christians as a way to prepare for a new life in Christ.
So, what could Lent be about for you this season? First, look at your life. Is there something that’s going on in your life that’s actually putting up a barrier between you and God? Maybe that’s the thing you need to give up and show repentance. When you feel a craving for that thing, whatever it is (maybe for you it is chocolate), pray to the Lord not just for strength to overcome temptation, but for strength to seek the Lord’s will in all things. For a believer, this is a path to renewal and even recommitment to Christ.
Figure out a way to observe the season of Lent as a time of repentance, renewal and recommitment. It will make the great day of Easter that much more of a revival in your life.