Yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent, a season that is well known to many Christians and hardly on their radar for others. One of the things I like about it is that it is observed by Christians around the world – when we observe the season, we are joining with the Body of Christ worldwide. I come from a church tradition that barely recognizes Lent so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to do a little research. What I’ve learned is motivating me to set apart this season as a time to pursue God more diligently by returning to the basic disciplines that were the hallmark of early Christians.

Before we look at those disciplines, let’s look at the original purpose for Lent. Understanding what something was meant to do helps us to use it properly. If you’ve never seen a fork before, and I give you one without telling you what its purpose is, you might come up with some unusual things to do with the fork. You might use it as a decorative hair pin, or take two of them and intertwine them to create a structure of some sort. While you can do those things with a fork, what it is best suited for is eating. So first we want to look at the original purpose for Lent.

During the first couple hundred years after Jesus’ time, new believers – people who put their faith and trust in Jesus – were baptized only once a year on Easter Sunday. They spent several weeks before their baptism preparing themselves spiritually for this significant milestone in their obedience to Christ. During this season they would concentrate on four basic practices of the Christian faith. In doing so, they would seek God humbly and lay a strong foundation for living a long life with Christ at the center. They focused on these four practices:


Let’s look briefly about each of these areas.

The Christian life is to be a life of prayer. Paul gave this instruction to the Thessalonians:

17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

I have grown a lot over the past year in the practice of giving thanks, but it’s an area of prayer in which I want to continually improve. The other area of prayer in which I want to improve is listening to God. It’s too easy to rush through my thanks and requests without pausing to enjoy God’s presence and listen for Him instructions, discipline or praise. (With the potential of hearing God’s “atta girl” how can I short-change this time during my prayers?)

During this season of Lent, I want to be more diligent about setting aside time to pursue God in prayer. Will you join me? Let’s agree among one another to make an appointment to meet God in a quiet place and pray each day during lent.

This second focus of the new believers in the early church who were preparing to be baptized on Easter morning was a key message of the New Testament. Both John the Baptist and Jesus said repeatedly “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Repentance is more than feeling sorry for our sin. It means changing our mind about what we did and agreeing with God that it is sin. There’s a big difference between asking God to forgive us of our sins, or even being sorry for our sins, and agreeing with God that what we did was a sin. Repentance requires changing our mind and then our behavior. And for our mind to be changed, we need to approach God humbly, with an attitude of humility, saying “Lord, I want to do your will. Forgive me and change my heart.” And then we need to listen.

So during our prayer times during Lent, let’s approach God humbly and ask Him to teach us His ways.

This is perhaps the most common practice people participate in during Lent. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a question we hear (and perhaps ask). I want to focus on fasting a little differently. First, I want to focus on the purpose of fasting. We are not fasting because it’s the season in which we’re supposed to give something up. It’s easy to fall into that trap. I want to go further and constantly remember that I am fasting to draw closer to God. I want the truth that Jesus spoke about when He said “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” to be a reality in my life. So we humble ourselves through fasting and turn to God to be filled. Fasting reminds us that we are weak (because we so want that thing we’ve given up) and we turn to God for His strength.

During your prayer time in the next couple of days, ask God how He would like you to participate in fasting. It might be that giving up some type of food will come to mind. I’d like to invite you to think about other kinds of fasting. For example, you might fast from television during certain times of the day. Or you might give up some other activity and spend the time in prayer and Bible reading.

Finally, the Christian life is a life of giving. It is one of the ways we demonstrate our love for Christ. Our God is an incredibly generous God. Most significant, He gave His son so that we could live forever with Him. Being generous doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Most of us have to fight against the urge to hold onto everything we have. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “Give to everyone who asks you.” A few verses later he said “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 6:38)

We don’t give so that we’ll get back, but God in His goodness blesses us.

Phil and I started this without realizing it when we spontaneously gave more than we were required to and more than we had anticipated giving. I’m hoping God reveals an opportunity to be generous each week during Lent. I want to encourage you pray about increasing your giving during this season. Give generously – share what you have with those around you.

Let’s Do It!
That was the emphasis of study for the new believers during the Lent season: prayer, repentance, fasting and giving. Some may wonder why we have to do it every year, even if we’ve been a Christian for most of our lives. The answer to that is simple. We don’t have to, but it is our privilege to do so. Practicing these four basics disciplines of our faith creates and reinforces an attitude of humility and puts us in a position to hear from God. Let me know what He’s saying to you!

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