What is Lent?

Honestly, before I wrote this article, I didn’t actually know. Was it a second chance at self-denial since, by now, most of us would have messed up our New Year’s Resolutions? Or is Lent just the other fasting period that’s not the National Day one?

Most of my friends in their churches don’t do Lent either. Turns out only Catholic and some Protestant churches observe it.

So I went to do some digging about Lent, and I dug until I found ashes. I’m talking about today, March 6: Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday always falls on a Wednesday since it leads up to Good Friday, which is on April 19 this year. Ash Wednesday basically kicks off the 40 days of repentance, self-denial and fasting. The idea is to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Most people call it “Easter” but I’m ngiao – I prefer “Resurrection Sunday”.

If we decide to fast or observe Lent, it needs to be done in the right spirit.

But you know what’s strange? If you went around and talked to Christians, maybe only 50% would actually know what Lent is about. Likely – and this is just my own opinion – an even smaller percentage would observe the 40-day season of of Lent. So strange right? Why aren’t we all doing what the Bible tells us to do?

Well it turns out that the Bible doesn’t actually doesn’t mention Lent or Ash Wednesday! Now, before you close this article and buy a cheeseburger – wait.

Just because the Bible didn’t mention Lent, doesn’t mean we should toss the whole thing out of the window. It just means we have a cultural practice here that could be good (or bad) for you – you just have to prayerfully ask God if it’s something He wants you to observe this season.

If we decide to fast or observe Lent, it needs to be done in the right spirit.

I once had a friend who looked forward to an annual fast because it meant she would be able to lose weight. When it comes to Lent, we can’t miss the point about fasting. Jesus himself has told us how to fast and given a warning with it.

“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 6:16-18)

We mustn’t make a big show out of this season. You know how people (myself included) talk cynically about Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, and be all like: “You shouldn’t need a special day to have to do this?”

Self-denial isn’t something we pull out every now and then. We should be doing this daily.

Lent is the same way: Repentance and self-denial are what we should be doing every day. And if we’re only good for 40 odd days, then it begs the question: What are we doing for the other 325?

Repentance isn’t just a decision or a “sorry” to be said – it’s a 180-degree turn away from sin. And self-denial isn’t something we pull out every now and then. It’s a whole life. Jesus himself said in Matthew 10:38: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Besides Lent, be aware of any other spiritual work that might serve as a psychological salve against the guilt of not taking up our cross and following God. Rituals and seasons do not confirm our faith in Christ – faithful obedience to God does.

Let’s also not forget that there is no season or fast or special day we can go all out on to get right with God. There is nothing we can do that will help us to earn grace or salvation. Jesus has already paid the price for us on the cross. 

I don’t mean for this to sound like a counsel against Lent. My intentions here are just for all of us to have wisdom whenever we observe seasons and fasts.

Because, frankly, I do believe it’s great to have such a tradition. As Singaporeans, we live in a nation of abundance and a society that constantly bombards us with stuff. Every single thing in this life is vying for our attention and time. Such conditions frequently make for a cluttered life and an unfocused faith.

In comes Lent – a tune-up to get us going again by helping us get rid of the things that weigh us down. In submission and obedience, we take things out of the equation so we can focus on God.

I think that’s the ideal scenario – certainly one I can get behind.

Whether we observe Lent or not, “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19 ESV).

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5-6)

May our hearts ever be set on repentance, self-denial and satisfaction in the Lord.