Although it seems that the new year just started, we have already entered into the run up to Easter, perhaps the most important holiday for Christians around the world. Celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith and cause for much rejoicing. As we prepare ourselves and our congregations for Easter and anticipate its preeminence in church life , we collectively experience the season of Lent. A familiar time for the global church, Lent is often overlooked by modern-day worshipers.
By definition, Lent is “the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday” (Google Dictionary). Lent is a season of 40 days during which believers everywhere can focus on Jesus in special ways. It is a time that connects the modern-day Church to its ancestors. “We are part of a long faith tradition, one that has observed the Christian year in one form or another practically since the actual events themselves” (www.patheos.com).
Steeped in tradition, Lent deserves our examination and participation. As church leaders we are responsible for making this happen. Here are a few thoughts for consideration on how church leaders can encourage those in their church to experience Lent afresh and anew.
1) Season of Reflection.
Lent can be a time dedicated to intentionally reflecting on our lives and taking time to hear from the Lord. Church leaders can help their people focus in on spiritual development during these 40 days by creating opportunities for prayer, solitude, listening, and worship. Many traditions follow the discipline of fasting during Lent, whether that means fasting from food and drink, or fasting from some other kind of earthly pleasure that could distract us from how God is trying to speak into our lives. Fasting can be useful in time of deep personal prayer and reflection, especially while wrestling with major life decisions or other matters. Church leaders can remind their people that fasting is a profoundly personal activity, to be done without fanfare, privately yearning for God’s still small voice and His divine guidance in this special season.
2) Season of Repentance.
As we take the time to reflect on all that God is doing in our lives, Lent can be a time for purposeful repentance. As we focus in on God and all that He wants for us in this life, He may bring to mind areas in our lives that need a little work. The discipline of repentance can help us work through those issues in our private lives that may require some much-needed attention. Church leaders can bring the area of repentance before their congregations, noting that life moves so fast and gets so busy that many times this discipline is forgotten. Repentance in a believer’s heart can bring joy and relief, while furthering an individual’s spiritual walk. Some church traditions even encourage the practice of confessing sins to one another. While this is something certainly out of the comfort zone for most church members, there is value in the accountability it can bring.
3) Season of Rejoicing.
Although Lent brings with it some serious heart work with the Lord, Lent can also bring a huge amount of joy to those who use this season to hear from God. When Christians dedicate themselves to prayer, listening, and worship, God does great things. Seeing God work in miraculous ways can encourage believers in fresh ways. Seeing the hand of the Savior intervening in the deepest of life’s challenges can hearten those who follow Jesus to persist in their efforts to live in a Christ-like manner. Seeing God’s plan come to fruition in life can be the very thing that propels church members to greater heights of ministry and loving others. Church leaders can promote the sharing of testimonies and answers to prayer so that, as one body, the Church can have a season of intentional rejoicing together about all that God has done.
4) Season of Recommitment.
After hearing from the Lord, repenting over stubborn personal issues, and then rejoicing about all that the Lord is doing, believers can use the season of Lent as a time to recommit themselves to living a life pleasing to and fully dependent on the Lord in the year to come. It is a time of specific focus on Christian discipleship, a topic relevant to believers of all ages and faith backgrounds. Using this ancient church tradition of Lent as a catalyst, church leaders can work with members to find the way forward in life’s difficulties. Then, commit anew to walking the path God would have us walk.