Reconnect with Jesus and renew yourself spiritually during Lent 2020
It’s time for Lent 2020! Go ahead and treat yourself to a little self-indulgence and temporary collapse of self-discipline on Fat Tuesday; have a little party. After that last hurrah, get ready to be very disciplined about committing to the hardships of Lent starting Wednesday, February 26, and lasting for forty days (in actuality more) until Easter 2020.
Lent of course is not something that’s observed by every denomination in Christianity (although many observe it). Regardless, I think every Christian can benefit from observing Lent in their own way, denying themselves and their desires and engaging in the spiritual exercises of their choice.
The Reason for the Season
Lent is a solemn season of repentance, penance, prayer, fasting (for some), and denying ourselves. All this is in preparation for the joyous occasion of Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of LORD Jesus Christ. Before the joy of that, we endure a little suffering in honor and gratitude of the suffering Jesus endured for us.
It’s a season for keeping God at the forefront of our thoughts. It’s a season for drawing closer to God in every way we can. It’s a season for praying to Jesus every day, confessing our sins, repenting of them, asking for forgiveness, and thanking Jesus for the sacrifice He endured on our behalf.
As Christians it’s best if we seek God and try to draw closer to Him all the time, not just during any particular season, but the season of Lent is a particularly good time for seeking Jesus. We have a faith based on the forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, so now is the best time to honor that unfathomable sacrifice by confessing our sins, putting our faith in Jesus that He will forgive us and cleanse us of our sins (1 John 1:9), and thanking Jesus for dying for us that we may attain life everlasting. This is an annual renewal, a mental refresher of what Jesus signifies for mankind and a chance to revitalize our relationship with Him.
A Suitable Sacrifice
It is only right we endure hardship during the season of Lent leading up to Easter. Jesus didn’t only suffer on the cross; he was also beaten, tortured, ridiculed, etc. Any hardship we commit to taking on during Lent pales in comparison to that.
Some Christians choose to do fasting during this time, others give up luxuries. Some do both. All choices are valid, there’s no universal doctrine regarding this. When choosing what to give up, it’s best to give up some earthly delight (such as coffee, etc.) or activity (such as Netflix, etc.) that you partake of every day and you love to do. God knows what’s in your heart; therefore, if you give up what truly means the most to you, that sacrifice is harder on you, so it honors Jesus’ sacrifice more, and is more pleasing to God.
Give up something that you can’t see yourself living without, the things you say you need. You’ll be surprised at how easily you actually can live just fine without those things (although for heavy coffee drinkers, giving up coffee will entail a day or two of seriously strong headaches).
And if you give up a huge time-sink activity such as Netflix, you’ll be forced to find other ways to occupy yourself for those hours each day that are now free. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how many other things you can get done with those hours. You might find yourself reading books, exercising more, working on some project of yours … basically being more fruitful in general. The goal of observing Lent is not to benefit yourself, but take the practical benefits when and where you can!
The Benefits of Hardship
It’s a welcome bonus that there are many benefits to be had by observing Lent, however, they’re mainly spiritual benefits. The spirit and the flesh are opposed; they’re opposite (Galatians 5:17). The flesh is our selfish desires, what we want to do, and our appetite for the delightful pleasures of this world, whether it be food or sex or whatever. When we deny our flesh, deny our desires, then it boosts our spirit. When we boost our spirit, we free ourselves more and more from our desires for the pleasures of this world that sadly have so much control over all of us, and we draw closer to God instead.
We live in a society where we generally indulge whatever desire we have, when we want to. Therefore, denying our bodies and bringing those desires under control is something new and unknown for many. But any time is a good time to start learning how to master your own flesh and exert discipline to bring desire under control.
Fasting is really the key to exerting mastery over the flesh. Food is the most commonly available pleasure of the flesh in our lives, and usually the one we indulge in the most. When we fast, we exert discipline over the most basic and fundamental fleshly desire we have. Wielding self-discipline in this way over our most basic desire then makes it easier to bring our other desires under control too. And fasting doesn’t mean starving yourself; it’s merely exerting discipline over your physical desire for food by denying yourself food for certain periods of time. You decide how long those periods are. That being said, yes it is true that there are some who should not fast due to medical reasons, etc. You should never sacrifice your own health in this way when there’s no need to — Jesus already made every sacrifice necessary. Fasting is honorable and is a pleasing sacrifice to God, but it’s not a pleasing sacrifice if it isn’t suitable for you to do it!
But to draw closer to God during this time, you must not neglect to engage in spiritual exercise while you’re denying the flesh. It’s true that denying the flesh boosts the spirit and draws us closer to God, but we need to be spiritually active to achieve that. That means daily prayer, reading The Bible, or even talking to God as you’re doing something else! Basically, the more you engage God and exercise your spirituality (whatever that entails for you) while denying your earthly flesh, you’ll hear God louder as the noise of your earthly desires has been quieted, and by praying and reading The Bible, you’re ‘tuning in’ to God specifically.
The benefits of tuning out the noise and tuning in to God are countless and not fully describable. But I would cite one of them as inner peace, something that so many people are searching for. Jesus died on the cross for us because He loves us; if we draw closer to Him in penance and prayer during Lent, we can perhaps experience a little piece of that love, and the peace and optimism it brings.
What could be better than that?
Any time is a good time to draw closer to God and seek Him. The season of Lent is an excellent time, since it’s focused on penance and repentance. None of us are perfect, so we all have sins (Romans 3:23) to confess from the last year, but during Lent we can get it off our chest and gain renewal as we connect with God. Each one of us has the opportunity to thank LORD Jesus Christ for the sacrifice He made and to honor the suffering He endured by making personal sacrifices of our own for the next forty days. The spiritual benefits we gain from disciplining our own flesh is the icing on the cake.
Finally, we as Christians should also take this season to reflect once again on the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and all that it signified. To help start you down that road of reflection, I’m including a prayer from the devotional for day 60 of the yearlong bible reading plan called Bible in One Year 2020 With Nicky Gumbel, which you can read using the Bible app (aka YouVersion, aka Bible.com), which I highly recommend and explained in further detail in my article Build a Daily Bible Reading Habit. Bartimaeus is the blind man who was healed in Mark 10, the New Testament reading selection for that day.
Lord, thank you for opening my eyes to understand the enormity of your sacrifice on my behalf. Thank you that I can never earn forgiveness but can only receive it as a gift by faith. Help me, like Bartimaeus, to follow you and to give my life in service to you and other people.
Amen! Now please enjoy your Fat Tuesday!