Exercising Lent

“Mardi Gras, the non-Christians favorite religious holiday.” Many will be dumb founded by that statement because very few know that Mardi Gras has anything to do with Christianity. According to some historians, Mardi Gras was born out of Carnival, a circus like pagan festival in Rome. The early church fathers thought it better to embrace some of the rituals and tie them to a religious holiday than do away with them all together. Since it normally took place in February, the natural fit was to unite it with Lent.

Mardi Gras was intended to be a time of “abandon and merriment” prior to the atonement of Lent. While it is easy to observe the “abandon and merriment” it now has little to do with its original purposes. So little, that it is difficult to perceive how the two are even related. As an example, the masks are used to symbolize the way we hide our sin or true nature from God and others; and Lent is a time to take them off. A time to examine who we really are, to be real before God and possibly come to understand that God forgives us and loves us even knowing who we are underneath the façade. He wants to encourage us to become who He created us to be, leaving the mask behind. Lent is a time to do away with the masquerade.

Many protestant churches pay very little attention to the different seasons of the church calendar, such as lent, because of the ritualistic tradition that goes along with it. When the protestant reformation began, the driving force behind this change was to break from traditions that usually usurped Scripture. Lent was one tradition that went by the wayside. Even today, many of those who practice Lent hang on to the tradition but don’t use it as a means to grow closer to the Father by examining themselves. Giving something up for Lent is a very popular practice in exercising one’s self-discipline. In reality, Lent has nothing to do with exercising self-control. It is a means to make space in our regular routines by fasting from aspects of our daily lives for times of prayer, Scripture reading, serving, and the other spiritual disciplines. It’s a time to reflect on our journey of faith. To see where we have been and contemplate where we are going. We tray to gain a new perspective as we look forward to the resurrection of Christ.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, following Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, and ends the Saturday prior to Easter Sunday. It last for 40 days, not counting Sundays, and is a reminder of the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11) prior to the beginning of His ministry.

If Jesus spent 40 days fasting to prepare Himself for ministry, how much more should we dedicate such time to Him annually? I challenge each of you to find something in your life that you can give up and feasibly fast from for 40 days – TV, internet, texting, Facebook, chocolate, pizza, or something else that you indulge yourself in and requires a lot of your time. Replace it with things like Scripture reading or memorization, prayer, or silence and solitude – be still in the presence of the Father. Don’t do it because I asked you to. Don’t do it to practice self-discipline. Do it to grow in your relationship with God. See what He has in store for you. Expect great things.

As a great friend of mine, Janet Felber, once said after fasting during Lent: “…there is no resurrection, no new life without death.” What must die in your life that God might become your priority?

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