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How to Make Lent More Than a Superficial Practice

How to Make Lent More Than a Superficial Practice

How to Make Lent More Than a Superficial Practice

The sacrifice of a food item in the weeks leading up to Easter seems to have become a falsely pious tradition. We seek to lay down something minor in exchange for what exactly? Does giving up chocolate make us understand the weight of the cross or the heaviness of our sinfulness? All too often, our practice of Lent has become superficial, where we offer simple rituals in hopes of finding a changed life.

There is a picture I have in my head of what Easter was like as a child. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and occasionally attended a church downtown in the heart of the city. Each Easter, all of the churches downtown would come together for Palm Sunday and walk down Tryon Street toward the center of town. It seems to be the memory that has stuck with me all these years seeing the crowds and the dancing palm leaves in the air.

There wasn’t much that I knew about Lent either as a child. It was often the time I heard people were giving up chocolate, or soda, or girl scout cookies (probably because they ate too many in the weeks prior). But I made a connection from the giving up of chocolate to the importance of Easter.

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Ursula Spaulding

Give Up Empty Sacrifices

In many cases, the sacrifice of a food item in the weeks leading up to Easter seems to have become a falsely pious tradition. We seek to lay down something minor in exchange for what exactly? Does giving up chocolate make us understand the weight of the cross or the heaviness of our sinfulness? All too often, our practice of Lent has become superficial, where we offer simple rituals in hopes of finding a changed life.

The reality is that our lives should be a living sacrifice at all times, not merely in the Lenten season. 

There are ways to break out of this cycle of superficial habits and approach the season with a humble and repentant heart. When we look at Lent in a new way, we will find renewed hope and growth in our walk with Christ, the Savior we celebrate each Easter.

First, We Must Understand the Reason for Lent

The Lenten season is a liturgical practice for the 40 days leading up to Easter. The practice itself is not found in Scripture, but it is a tradition that began in the Catholic church. Some denominations have their own rules about the season, but as believers, we must examine what this practice means for us in our walk with Christ.

The goal ultimately is to grow spiritually and foster respect and be reverence during the days leading up to Easter through fasting, prayer, and worship. Because the practice began in the Catholic church, other denominations are not in the habit of practicing Lent. But I think when we understand its purpose, there is much beauty to discover in its values.

Over my adult years, I have made a habit of implementing this time leading up to Easter, not just personally but with our family as well. We commit to a specific Bible study together or individually. We will often give something up in the way of fasting—but more on that later. We view the Lenten season as a beautifully sacred time to devote ourselves to prayer and examining the state of our hearts before the Lord. 

Secondly, Give Up Something That Will Stretch Your Strength

One of the principles of Lent is fasting. This act of fasting is very much Scriptural. We see the practice used often to hear from God, to grow, or as a way to focus on prayer. We see fasting used in the Old and New Testament and ought to implement it often in our own prayer lives. Removing certain types of food that we rely heavily on can help shift our focus from eating to prayer. In years past, our family has given up meat for the 40 days leading up to Easter. We have also given up material things, like fasting from social media, spending no money, etc.

While there are several options in the realm of fasting, the goal is to give up something that will indeed be a challenge. One that will push you to prayer and break our reliance on the “thing” you have given up and drive you closer to Christ. The pitfall comes when we give up something minor in the hopes that it will be sufficient enough to meet the need of the moment. But the question remains: Is what I am fasting from going to push me to change, and grow in my reliance on and hunger for God? 

Third, Have a Heart of Humility

Growing up, what I saw of religion left a bad taste in my mouth. Those around me looked no different than the sinful world I lived in. Their choices were, in fact, exactly the same. The people I saw would go through the motions of religious practice and then pat themselves on the back for doing such a great job. This misses the point entirely. Lent is not about us. There are no works that we can do to earn favor with God. Fasting, giving, prayer, none of these things earn us forgiveness and right standing with God.

The state of our hearts, however, does. Ephesians 2:4-5 says it best, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Paul then goes on to say these words in verses 8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Do you see it? This work is not of us; it is all from God. There is no pious activity that will earn us a right standing with our Heavenly Father. Keeping our hearts in a place of humility and understanding of this truth will keep our practice of Lent focused on growing closer to Christ rather than what we bring to the table.

Fourth, Wear a Gospel Lens

I enjoy the Lenten season. It is a way to clear the cobwebs that have gathered around my faith. It is a time to lay down my selfishness and regard my Savior for the finished work of the cross on my behalf. The Gospel affects the practice of Lent in every way. Without the holy resurrection of Christ, there would be no need for it.

We are placing ourselves in a posture to feel the full weight of Easter and the sin Jesus took to the cross on our behalf. When we open the word of God, fast, and pray in the season of Lent, our eyes should be ever fixed on the Gospel and how that changes us.

Whether this is your first Lenten season as a believer or your one-hundredth, we need the reminder to not go through the motions but to feel the fullness of what Easter means. We need to be reminded to walk with a heart of humility, to fast from something that will stretch us, and to walk through these forty days with our eyes set on the Gospel—the cross of Jesus Christ.

Michelle Rabon is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who feels called to help women thrive in their walk with Jesus every day. In 2012, she started Displaying Grace, a ministry that is focused on helping women engage with God’s Word. Michelle has also served in women’s ministry for the past five years seeking to equip women in the local church through Bible study. When she is not writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, being close to the ocean, and drinking a lot of coffee.

Michelle Rabon is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who feels called to help women thrive in their walk with Jesus every day. In 2012, she started Displaying Grace, a ministry that is focused on helping women engage with God’s Word. Michelle has also served in women’s ministry for the past five years seeking to equip women in the local church through Bible study. When she is not writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, being close to the ocean, and drinking a lot of coffee. 

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