The highlight of the year for Christians is Easter, the day when our Lord rose from the dead. Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for Easter. Lent always begins on a Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.
Why 40 days? Because, Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Lent, then, is our time of fasting, prayer, temptation and repentance. Lent is not required anywhere in scriptures, but it has been a custom, which Christians have practiced for most of the last two thousand years.
In many languages, the word "Lent" actually means "fast." This is where the custom of giving up something for Lent originated.
However, just to confuse things, Lent is actually 46 days rather than 40 days. Why? Because the 40 days of Lent are supposed to be days of fasting, which means days of discipline and self-restraint. But Sunday, the Lord's Day, should never be a day of fasting, but a day of celebration! So each Sunday we suspend our Lenten disciplines and celebrate. Lent is 40 "fasting" days spread out over a total of 46 days beginning on Ash Wednesday.
The focus of Lent was always threefold:
1. It was a time to prepare new converts for baptism through intensive classes and instruction. 2. It was a time for long-standing Christians to review their lives and renew their commitment to Jesus Christ. 3. It was a time for backsliders to be restored to the faith.
In every case, it is a time for serious, disciplined self-examination, a time spent in intensive prayer and repentance before the cross of Calvary.
To represent the dark and serious business of Lent, one custom has been to strip the sanctuary of all flowers, candles, and colors during Lent. This custom helps us to turn inward and examine ourselves, even as it reminds us of the dark and colorless Sabbath day when Jesus lay dead in the tomb.
Put simply, Lent is a time to examine ourselves carefully. Here are some questions upon which you might pray and meditate during Lent:
* Am I sharing gladly what I have with others, especially the stranger and the poor?
* Do I have a gracious and patient attitude with others, especially those who irritate me?
* Do I feel the power of connection to God and the church in corporate worship?
* How is my devotional and prayer life progressing? Am I listening to God more and complaining less? Is it time for a change or a growth in my Bible study and prayer life?
* What are the lurking sin problems, which still plague me?
* Am I as thoughtful and forgiving of family as others, or do I take my frustrations out on them?
* Do I speak up for the maligned and oppressed, or do I remain silent in order to remain popular?