Reflections on Engaging Lent

Lent is a period of time practiced by followers of Jesus, for centuries. However, many people approach lent from a “me-first” perspective. They use it to jump start some kind of self improvement or rid themselves of a bad habit. 

“Using fasting as leverage on God hardly seems appropriate. It seems far more authentic to enter the time as a way of aligning ourselves with God’s desires for us, not the other way around. Every effort should also be made not to broadcast the fasting to others as a way to resist calling attention to ourselves or trying to impress others with our spirituality.”

(p.152, Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness)

Lent is designed to challenge each person to do two things. The two go together. It’s a discipline, it’s challenging, but it’s always life transforming: 

The first is to “deny yourself” or “give up” a regular habit or practice in your life for six days each week (Sundays excepted). Some give up a meal, others give up screen time, etc. 

The second is, to “take up” or focus more intentionally on Jesus Christ: His life, His truth, His free gift of salvation, His expression through our lives. 

I’ve interacted through the Lenten period in different ways over the years. Each one has been purposeful. Through each season, God has sifted and shifted my thinking and my life. My interaction with lent, with fasting, sacrifice and more intimate prayer came as a result of the unexpected and world-altering reality of my father's passing 2002.  With no satisfactory answers as to "why", I dove deeper into the "who" of God's compassionate care. 


In short, what I've been learning is that God has so much more for us to learn as we empty our comforts and emotions with a yielded desire to engage those around us. My own strength, intellect and emotions will always come up short; however the process through Lent readies me to be renewed through the power of the resurrection of Jesus, who is our Exemplar and our focus. 


Here are excerpts from two articles that are helping to inform my Lenten journey. 

One is from an African perspective, one is from a North American perspective: 


“The call to repentance by Jesus, and the real call of Lent, is to take a new look at God, to refresh our image of him. It is to come to a vivid realization that God loves us now, as we are, and before ever we change. The main thing in Lent is not that we should do things for God but that we should become more aware of how much God is doing for us. Each day we want to see more and more that God loves us powerfully, unfailingly, permanently.”

- AJAN - Africa

Read the full article at this link.


“The season of Lent works at a different speed– the speed of silence and stillness that brings renewal. It begins on Ash Wednesday with the reminder that we are made from ashes, to ashes we shall return. This emphasis on the fragility of humanity is made clear through the silence of Good Friday, when the movement of Lent seems to have been all for naught. Only in the quiet of Easter morning is the noise of the world overcome, when the silent one who was smothered by those wielding power emerges from the tomb.”

-       Andy Scott, Lent and Lessons in Silence


Read the full article at this link:


Often our prayer is hurried, thoughtless, and one way.


Through the daily disciplines that are emphasized during this season we yield ourselves to the Spirit of God, interacting with him according to His transforming work in our lives (John 15). 


Joshua 1             Meditating                  

1 John 1:9           Confess                       

Acts 17:11           Study               

Mark 1:35            Solitude                       

Nehemiah 1         Lamenting

Psalms - Celebrate & Remember

Esther 4:15-16    Fasting

Isaiah 58             Act Justly


When Jesus says, “when you pray…when you fast…”,  (Matthew 6:5-18),  He is inviting us into a deep relationship with God the Father where blessing, assurance and strengthening for each day is discovered. 

“Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father…when we pray, genuinely pray, the real condition of our heart is revealed. This is as it should be. This is when God truly begins to work with us.” 

(p.10-11, Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home)

The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice is a good one. It’s not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you. Seek to replace that thing with devotion to Christ—his Word and his mission. God may lead you to give up and take up more as you go. 

That’s good. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

40 – Jesus fasted for forty days; it’s a biblical relevant number


The point of giving things up isn’t to be reminded of how much we miss them, but rather to be awakened to how much we more there is to grow into our relationship with  God (1 Corinthians 13:12). This means, of course, that Lent isn’t only about giving up things. 

It’s also about adding things, God-things.

Where is God leading you?

  • Having given up junk food for a healthy diet, what will you do with the energy you gain?
  • Having given up reading magazines, what will you read now?
  • Having given up social media, to whom will you devote meaningful conversation?
  • Having given up meal(s), how will you rely on God for the strength of “food from heaven”? Who in your community could benefit from simple foods?
  • Having given up TV as a default activity, how will you use that time to cultivate quality family/relationship time?
  • Having given up isolation, how will you immerse yourself in community?
  • Having given up shopping, will you see those who need clothing in your city?
  • Having sacrificed whatever form of selfishness you indulge, how will you meet the needs of others?


Here are some ways to engage: 


Reconciling our relationship with God 


Each day as you read the Bible, ask God to teach you something about His character. 

Maybe you will read from one book, chapter, or section of the Bible, maybe you’ll use a devotional plan. 

In every place you read and reread you’ll discover something about the nature and character of God. 


At the end of these 10 days, make a list of what you’re learning about God. 



Reconciling our relationship with Self 


Our own self image is often fairly low, or masked, in part because we fail to see ourselves the way God sees us. One of our struggles in loving others, is that we don’t have a healthy, balanced view of ourselves. As you read the Bible during these 10 days, and as you look first to the character of God,  learn to confess to God your own weaknesses, lack of confidence, excuses and/or sin. Then read and reread, listen and learn how He wants you to think differently about yourself. 


At the end of these 10 days, make a list of what you’re learning about God and yourself.



Reconciling our relationship with Others 


During this next group of days, having grown in your understanding of who God is and how he views you, begin to talk to Him about your relationships (home, work, school, neighbours, extended family).  As you read the Bible during these 10 days, be willing to ask God to give you opportunities to extend grace and truth to others. Ask for insight into how others view you, areas of growth that you should be aware of. Listen to learn, not defend.  Consider others: What change is God asking you to make in your relationships? Who needs encouragement, help, understanding?  From whom do you need to seek forgiveness? Are there new relationships that you should be fostering, perhaps with people that don’t share the same interests or backgrounds as you? Is there an organization or a person God is asking you to serve?


At the end of these 10 days, make a list of what you’re learning about God and your relationship with others. What is God asking you do to serve others the way Jesus would?


Reconciling our relationship with Creation 


In this phase make a point, if physically able, to get outside. Make your way around your neighbourhood: initiate greetings with people, notice greenspace, listen for sounds. Find somewhere to sit and observe and think back over what God has been teaching you. There are lots of ways to make a positive environmental impact as stewards of the world we live in: Make a plan to plant a garden and give the produce away, use your vehicle less, clean up a neighbourhood park or greenspace, compost more, etc.  More significantly, as the Spring season emerges, there are new things God wants to do in you, things that He has been whispering to you in the silence of the winter of fasting, things that will make you flourish and be of benefit to others. 


At the end of these 10 days, make a list of what you’re learning about God and the world He’s created.  

As we now move toward the remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus, what areas of your life are you awaiting God’s power to transform?  Who will you be ready to tell? 

What other suggestions would you have for these lists above?

How has God strengthened you through times of prayer and fasting?