The majority of my formative years were spent in a charismatic conservative Christian church. Palm Sunday and Good Friday were pretty big deals and definitely had attention given to them, but the majority of the attention was given to Easter. Overall it made sense, given that in evangelical circles the emphasis is on the celebration and the rejoicing, and the triumph of Christ rising from the dead, and the beautiful symbolism of His followers not having to face eternal death but being able to have eternal life. I am truly grateful for the truths laid in my heart because of my upbringing, but it was not until I was 34 years old that I actually encountered Lent and its true meaning.
I had heard of Lent and knew that it had some connection with Mardi Gras, and some connection to why people didn’t eat meat or gave up smoking, but there really wasn’t much that I knew beyond that. I know, call me sheltered and unaware, but I just didn’t know anyone for whom it was a part of his or her life.
Then, while I was in Oxford, England attending and speaking at a conference I had the opportunity to attend the Ash Wednesday service at Exeter College in their breathtaking Victorian Gothic chapel. As I sat in that room filled with its magnificent carved woodwork and stained glass, I listened to a message that brought me to an understanding of Lent beyond, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
I came face to face with a season intended for preparation.
The traditional focus of Lent, the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday, is as a commemoration of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. And though that focus, of doing what Jesus did, is admirable, it seems as though why He did what He did has been lost in the tradition and ritual of it all.
As I sat listening to the readings from the books of Isaiah and Matthew, I was reminded that the purpose of Christ’s 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert was to prepare Him for the days that were ahead of Him as He entered His time of ministry. John Maxwell refers to Jesus’ time in the desert as a “screening process,” a time to see if He had what it was going to take.
Since that awakening on Ash Wednesday four years ago, I have purposefully chosen to participate in the Lent season, but with a different focus than that of the traditional focus. For me it start on Ash Wednesday with a time of prayer and confession and posturing myself in a way that acknowledges my humanity and my need for forgiveness, and then moves into 40 days of specific focus on preparation, preparation for the next season that God is moving me into. John Maxwell says that it is during this season that “our motives get purified, our backbone solidifies, and our calling gets clarified.” Each year I have found myself truly prepared by God for what was around the next bend.
This Lent I have joined in with a group of people who are all seeking to be prepared by God through the 40-day season in a special way. Led by author, teacher, and speaker, Margaret Feinberg, we will be reading through the New Testament of the Bible, from Matthew through Revelation, as our #LentChallenge. I am ready and expectant for God to use this season to prepare me for whatever lies ahead, and am truly grateful that God showed me the true meaning of Lent.
Would you like to join us?