For the past few decades, Lent was a holiday observed primarily by the Roman Catholics. However, Lent’s history and value are diverse and textured. The Celebration of God believes that Lent provides an amazing way for protestant Christians to worship God as they prepare their hearts for the glorious celebration of Easter.
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I wish we had way more time to talk about today’s featured holiday.
Unfortunately, we simply don’t, so today’s episode may be longer than usual as I try to fit everything in.
But that may lead you to wonder why this holiday requires so much attention. Well, for most of my life, Lent was a holiday observed only by Roman Catholics . . . or at least that’s what I and everyone I knew thought.
I’d know Lent was starting when the Polish bakeries in the Detroit area started advertising their delicious paczkis in preparation for Fat Tuesday, and the local catholic school girls appeared with ash smudged on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
From there, the only thing I knew about Lent is that people commonly talked about what they were going to “give up.” I don’t know if they ever did give anything up, but it was definitely something about which people talked.
And — like Advent — it wasn’t until that past 5-10 years that I’ve observed many protestants giving serious consideration as to whether or not there is value in observing Lent.
However — unlike Advent — fewer protestants have joined the club.
Well, I — for one — am looking forward to today’s discussion, and I pray it helps you decide whether or not you, your church, and/or your family can benefit from Lent.
If you have not subscribed to The Celebration of God, we’d love for you to do that. And we’d be delighted to have you join us on Social Media. We’re currently on Facebook and Instagram, and we post about three times a day with celebration prompts. You’ll find a verse or quote designed to draw your mind to the awesomeness of God and encourage you to worship Him. We recommend — when you see one of our posts — that you are least take a moment to thank the Lord for the attribute or deed we highlighted.
Lastly, don’t forget that all of our shows have free episode notes and transcripts so you don’t have to worry about writing anything down.
Now, if you are new to the show, we welcome you. We’re so glad you’re here.
The Celebration of God is a discipleship experience where we are all striving to become better followers of Christ, and — as we’re becoming better disciples — we’re learning to disciple others as well.
But no one can be a good disciple part-time. God deserves our fealty and obedience and devotion every moment of every day.
That’s why The Year Long Celebration of God seeks to help all Christians everywhere better know, love, and serve God more often.
This year we’re focusing primarily on how to truly worship God during the big Holy Days like Creation Week, Christmas, and Easter, but also during the minor holidays like Labor Day, Halloween, and the Consummation.
Our holiday line-up has old favorites and new additions that all focus on attributes of God and details of our salvation.
It really is a glorious experience, and we’re glad you’re along for the ride.
At the same time, I strongly suggest you listen to our introductory episodes before you go any further. We laid a solid foundation and answered all of the questions you may have about how we’re approaching this discipleship experience, and there just isn’t time to repeat those details every episode. So, please check that out.
And when you’re all caught up, we’ll meet you back here for a discussion about Lent.
Now, I lamented earlier that I wish I had more time. I would love to have done a whole series of episodes explaining what Lent is and how it works. But I also want to give us first-timers some valuable ways to prepare for, celebrate God, and disciple during Lent.
But we’re going to kind of have to squeeze it all in.
So, let’s get started. We’re going to ask and answer five questions as we unpack this value of Lent.
I. What is Lent?
The word “Lent” is derived form an Old English word which referred to the spring season. The word communicated the lengthening of the days as Spring approached. And there are various derivatives in various European languages.
Traditionally, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends about six weeks later, right before Easter. That’s a total of 46 days. That also means that the last week of Lent is the Passion Week, which starts on Palm Sunday.
Lent is only supposed to be 40 days long, however. Most traditions, though, do not observe Lent on the Sundays because Sunday is supposed to be a mini-celebration of the resurrection. Therefore, when you remove the six Sundays, you end up with 40 days of Lenten.
Historically, no one can perfectly nail down the genesis of Lent. Some loosely tie it to the Apostle’s mourning over the loss of the Lord after the crucifixion. Other’s quote ancient sources that claim that something similar to Lent was already being practiced by the church. And others point to the Council of Nicea in which it mentions “the 40 days of Lent.” Either way, until reset generations, fasting was an expected practice of God-worshippers.
Regardless, the purpose of the observation has general agreement. Lent has traditionally been a time of spiritual Preparation for Eastertide.
This should sound very familiar if you celebrated Advent with us. Advent is a time to prepare one’s mind for the glorious celebration of Christmas. If you remember, I mentioned that some of the themes of Advent are desperation, repentance, fasting, and spiritual preparation. For this reason, Advent is sometimes called “Little Lent” because it shares those themes in common.
Whereas Advent is a time of prayer and fasting in a spirit of expectation and hope, Lent is a time of prayer and fasting coupled with repentance and forgiveness.
Advent mirrors the thousands of years that God’s people prepared for the Messiah’s first coming and the continued Preparation for His second coming. Therefore, it’s appropriate to exercise times of fasting and prayer in order to devote our minds to the glorious expectation of His return.
In a similar fashion, Lent mirrors the thousands of years that God’s people have been preparing for the yearly celebration of His resurrection.
But why — for thousands of years — have Christians approached times of great celebration with penitence and fasting?
We’ll answer that in a minute.
For now, we recognize that Lent is an elongated Preparation for Eastertide.
2. Who participates in Lent?
Historically, a number of denominations have participated in Lent. However, even though many Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and some Presbyterians have observed Lent, most Protestants do not.
Again, we don’t have the time to detail the reasoning here. Suffice it to say, observing Lent is not inherently wrong as long as it’s done in faith to the glory of God as prescribed in the Scriptures.
I can say that many Protestants of the past and most from present have wanted to distance themselves from the Catholic traditions. And I completely agree with that. Association can cause serious problems. It can miscommunicate to people on the outside, and it can confuse people on the inside.
If The Celebration of God were created during the early 90’s, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Lent. But — as I already mentioned — there has been — what I believe to be — a beneficial shift in the Protestant church toward doing what’s right even though other people may be doing it the wrong way or for the wrong reasons.
Having grown up as a fundamentalist, it was common for people to refuse to do otherwise Christ-honoring things simply because someone with whom they disagreed also did the same thing. Thankfully, that is no longer the general predisposition.
By the way, I do still consider myself a fundamentalist because I hold to the fundamentals of the faith as originally established in the early 1900’s. Each of the fundamentals is clear and biblical and necessary to be born again. However, I don’t call things sin that God does not call sin.
Anyway, I and the whole Celebration of God staff believes that — if you choose to observe Lent — you can defiantly do it to the honor and glory of God.
So, that leads us to . . .
3. How do you prepare for Lent?
Since Lent itself is a Preparation, how do you prepare for it? Let’s start with a description of Shrovetide and Fat Tuesday.
And — again — I’m about to bite off far more than I can chew in one episode because the French word for Shrovetide is Carnival, and the French translation of “Fat Tuesday” is Mardi Gras.
Yup, and now you’re understanding more and more why Christians have wanted to distance themselves from the whole thing.
Well, we don’t have time to talk about Carnival and Mardi Gras, but we will in the future. For now, please understand that we are not talking about the godless, wicked debauchery committed every year in New Orleans. Call it what you will, the mainstream modern adulterations do not celebrate what the historical practices did.
For hundreds of years, genuine followers of Christ have desired to celebrate God all year long. For this reason, the time between the 12th Day of Christmas and Ash Wednesday had multiple purposes. For example, it was a time to celebrate God’s goodness, prepare the body for an extended fast, and prepare the spirit for a Christ-honoring time of desperation.
But let’s focus on Fat Tuesday in particular. Why do so many people (who have no intention of worshipping God by fasting) gorge themselves the day before Lent? Well, just like Christmas and Easter and Halloween and Valentines have all been commercialized, perverted, and abominated to suit our own pleasures, the same has happened to Shrove Tuesday.
Is it possible that Fat Tuesday was ever Christ-honoring? Yup! Here’s an example. Let’s say that you and your family live two hundred years ago, are devout disciples of the Lord, and are excitedly looking forward to Lent. You are all happy to spend the 40 days praying, fasting, reading the Scriptures, and preparing for the biggest celebration on the Christian calendar — Easter.
So, you decide to stop eating fatty foods and sugar.
But your pantry still has all the ingredients for such foods sitting there, presenting a very real potential temptation. Remember, your family can’t easily run out to a store or stop into a restaurant. What you have to eat is there in your home, and why would you invite unnecessary temptation while you’re trying to grow spiritually?
Proverbs 14:16 says that, “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless.”
Proverbs 22:3 tells us that, “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, But the naive go on, and are punished for it.”
Proverbs 27:12 says something very similar, “A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, The naive proceed and pay the penalty.”
Now, your family knows that eating fatty foods and sugar within reason is not a sin, but you also know that you want to worship God by fasting, and so removing the temptation to break that fast is very prudent. Therefore, the day before your fast starts, you and you family decide to have a special feast. You take all of your milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and syrup and you prepare a pancake extravaganza. The family enjoys the feast together, praising God for the His sustenance and blessing, and now the temptations to break your fast are gone from the home.
Well, that’s the history of the event. It was pure and theological and practical. It was fun, but also Christ-honoring when done for His glory, not ours.
By the way, this example was not fictional. This is the tradition that gave rise Pancake Day in England and Mardi Gras in France.
A modern, Christ-centered version may look a little different given the access we have to food, but that’s a discussion for next year.
The point is, historically, one way people prepared for Lent was by enjoying a final feast the day before Lent started. It was intended to be an act of worship to God, not a pagan glut-fest, and it was intended to prepare the body for an extended fast. Obviously, there’s no need to prepare the body to give up technology or sweets by binging on them the day before, but — historically — many people were going to participate in the full-on 40 day fast. That required some preparation simply for health’s sake.
4. How do you observe Lent?
The day after Shrove Tuesday is Ash Wednesday. It’s the start of Lent and involves a number of customs. Participants may set up a Lenten calendar, start a Lenten devotional, or make a Lenten sacrifice.
But, please, allow me to remind everyone that none of this is prescribed in the Bible for New Testament believers. You can glorify God and not observe Lent. However, you cannot glorify God and not worship Him. Therefore, just be sure that whether you choose to do or not do Lent, you’re doing so because you believe the Bible makes it clear that the Lord will be pleased by your participation or lack thereof.
“Aaron, a second ago you said that people would sacrifice. What do you mean?”
Good question. The “sacrifice” was another name for the actual fast. Someone observing Lent chooses something from their lives (a food or activity) and they sacrifice it to the Lord for Lent. That means that they will not partake in it again until Easter.
In regard to the Ash in Ash Wednesday, it’s designed to remind us that we are nothing but dust. We were formed from dust and will return to dust. An interesting tradition is that — in many traditions — palm leaves from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday are burned to create the ash.
As The Celebration of God grows, we will spend more time discussing how these traditions may be used to celebrate God or how they can be used to distract from God and place ourselves at the center of the celebration. For now, we’re just getting a bird’s-eye view of the holiday.
From there on out, participants observe a 40 day fast.
Now, again, fasting is something we’re going to talk much more about in the upcoming year. We find references to it all throughout Scripture, but modern Christians seem to either dismiss the practice or completely misunderstand it.
For the purposes of considering how we may use fasting to celebrate God, we should consider two passages.
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
First, we need to establish that Jesus assumed that His audience was going to fast at some point for some reason. Had you been in that audience, would you have been surprised that Jesus assumed you were going to be fasting at some point? Likely you would since most modern Christians don’t do it.
Second, Jesus’ main point was that the purpose of fasting must be for the honor and glory of the Father.
Another interesting passage is Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.”
Here we find Ezra coupling fasting with beseeching God for provision. All throughout the Scriptures, fasting is also associated with mourning and penitence. I look forward to studying the various biblical references to fasting in the future.
In regard to Lent, followers of Christ may choose to refrain from food or drink entirely or certain foods or drinks because they want to use the time they would normally have been eating or participating in the activity to pray and seek God’s will for their lives in the Scriptures.
Of course, you’ve probably been wondering for quite some time, why 40 days?
That’s also a great question.
The number 40 plays a prominent role in the Scriptures, and a good number of them reference or include fasting.
The first significant reference to 40 is the number of days and nights it rained during the flood. That may not have involved fasting, but it definitely sent a precedent for sobriety. When you couple this event with the over 140 other times the number 40 is used, you find the theme of testing throughout.
This is true of the 40 years the Jews spent in the wilderness before entering Canaan. And — in a very real way — this was a forced fast. The Jews wanted to go into the promised land until they didn’t trust God any more, and the Lord put them on a mandatory fast for 40 years.
On two different occasions, Moses spent 40 days in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. Those events were accompanied by fasting.
In I Kings 19 we learn that God fed Elijah right before a 40 day walk to Mount Horeb.
Jonah preached throughout Nineveh for 40 days.
And, of course, Jesus fasted for 40 days before He began His public ministry.
This final one is the icing on the proverbial King’s Cake, and is the main reason most people believe that Lent is 40 days long.
And finally . . . for today . . .
5. How do you disciple during Lent?
Well, this answer is pretty straightforward. Just like discipling during any other season, event, holiday, project, or chore, we disciple in two main ways:
1. We discuss the truths of God with our fellow disciples.
Some valuable topics for Lenten include the life of Christ, the necessity of confession and repentance, righteous living, and you can obviously take time to talk about fasting and prayer and Lenten acts of worship and service.
2. We invite our fellow disciples to do life with us.
Don’t just talk, put feet to your words.
So, you’ve read the Gospels together, wonderful! Now talk to God about what you read. Thank Christ for His life and ministry and sacrifice and resurrection.
You’ve talked about confession and repentance; exercise those gifts together. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be [spiritually strengthened].”
You’ve taken time to talk about sanctification and righteous living; start holding each other accountable to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
You’ve talked about fasting; do one together.
As you talk about God and live out those truths in your lives, you will be actively participating in discipleship just as the Lord commanded.
Thank you for your patience today. If you already observe Lent, I hope that today was a helpful reorientation to the purer purpose of the event.
If you — like I — have never observed it before, I hope we gave you some things to consider. Perhaps the Lord will not be glorified by your participation in Lent — that’s perfectly fine. But if you believe that God would be pleased by you taking some intentional time to give Him the preeminence in your life that He deserves, then perhaps this season of Lent will help you accomplish that.
But whether you participate or not, please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets. Our mission is to glorify God by helping Christians all over the world better know, understand, and love God while helping their friends do the same.
To that end, we need to do another checkup!
The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.