Discovering the Where, When, Why, and What of Lent

Lynette Kittle

iBelieve Contributors
Updated Feb 23, 2024
Discovering the Where, When, Why, and What of Lent

Growing up in a predominately German Catholic area in Northern Ohio, each spring our public school served fish fillet sandwiches and macaroni-and-cheese each Friday. As an Evangelical Christian girl, although I loved the predictable luncheon combo, even looking forward to it each week, I had no idea why our cafeteria was so dedicated to serving it on Fridays.

Later on, I discovered it was because of Lent. Even though I was raised in church, I was kind of clueless about what it all meant, including Ash Wednesday. 

Although Lent is practiced in the Catholic Church as well as in Protestant churches like the Lutheran Church, like me, it may be a mystery to many modern-day churchgoers as to when and where Lent originated, why it’s connected to Easter, what the focus of Lent is, and the significance of Ash Wednesday to Lent.

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ashes for Lent

When and Where Did Lent Begin?

Did Jesus practice Lent? Is it mentioned in the Bible?

If we look for Lent in the Bible, we’re not going to find it anywhere, as it’s not actually mentioned. Rather, it’s taken from early Christians’ practice of believing in the importance of spiritually preparing themselves for Easter. 

History’s earliest recording of this 40-day period of Lent is first found in the Canons of Nicaea, written around AD 325 by representatives of the early church who met at the Council of Nicaea.

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Cross, lent, fasting, and almsgiving blocks

Why Is Lent Connected to Easter?

Why does Lent begin 40 days before Easter? Is it connected to Christ’s death and resurrection? 

Although not directly related to the Easter holiday, the 40-day period is based on Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert, where He faced and overcame Satan’s temptations. Matthew 4:1 describes: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:2 explains how Jesus filled these 40 days: “After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.”

Practicing Lent is a time when many people fast, giving up all or some particular kind of food. It’s a way of honoring and following Jesus’ example in the wilderness. 

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ashes forming a cross, Ash Wednesday scriptures

What Is Ash Wednesday’s Significance to Lent?  

Like Lent, Ash Wednesday is not found in the Bible but is the kick-off for the 40 days of Lent, based on the early biblical tradition of fasting, the wearing of sackcloth, and sitting in ashes to show a repentant heart. It’s reflective of the numerous Old Testament descriptions of how individuals and nations practiced public repentance for sins.

Isaiah 58:5 describes it: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”

The ashes represent humans being formed in the dust and returning to the dust. Genesis 3:19 explains, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

As well, Ecclesiastes 3:20 says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

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Lent with a crown of thorns

What Is the Focus of Lent?

According to church tradition, Lent has three main areas of focus: fasting, prayer, and charity. 

1. Fasting focuses on personal sacrifice and involves abstaining from food in an effort to reduce distractions so that we can focus more on God. Matthew 6:16-18 describes how to go about fasting in a way that pleases God:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 4:11 describes what happened after Jesus resisted temptation during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.”

Often, we think that God only provided the comfort of angels to Jesus after fasting because He is His Son. Most of us don’t believe that God will send angels to attend to us after fasting, but Hebrews 1:14 tells us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit Salvation?”

Additionally, whereas Matthew described Jesus as entering the fast full of the Holy Spirit, Luke 4:14 describes Jesus after fulfilling it: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside.”

Many who observe and participate in Lent fasting do so with anticipation and the hope that, like Jesus experienced, they will experience the spiritual benefits that come through 40 days of fasting, too.

2. Prayer focuses on our need for forgiveness for our sins. Acts 3:19 urges, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

Personally, some individuals find the deeper meaning and true focus of Lent is the practice of personal repentance for sin and turning away from it to receive God’s mercy and love. 

3. Giving offers us the opportunity to demonstrate love for others more than ourselves by serving through our finances, helping, and sharing the gospel with them. 

Matthew 6:2-4 challenges us that when we do reach out to those who are in need, we do it in a way that does not showcase our giving to gain recognition and attention but that we do so in a way that honors God:

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

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Small cross made from a palm leaf laying on an open white bible on a dark purple background shot from above, bible verses lent

Why Lent Is a Spiritual Practice

Still, what those who practice Lent need to know is that it doesn’t pay for their sins or earn their way to heaven. It is a spiritual practice that helps draw them closer to God.

Before Reformer Martin Luther discovered the grace of God and salvation through Jesus Christ alone, he diligently pursued holiness to the point of whipping himself raw as a way to appease the wrath of a holy God and to deserve heaven. He also regularly confessed his sins for up to six hours a day. 

However, through studying the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit revealed to Luther that the just shall live by faith and that none of his self-afflictions would justify him before God. Salvation would only come through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Ephesians 2:8 reveals, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

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Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman,,,, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.

Originally published Thursday, 15 February 2024.