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Lent: What It Means and Why It Matters


I grew up in a different church tradition than The Crossing where we talked a lot about Lent and followed certain practices throughout the season. Yet the topic of Lent is something we don’t spend a lot of time addressing around here. I’ve fallen in and out of Lent over the years, never sure what to do when it comes around.

Recently, I’ve gravitated towards Lent in a new way, seeking to understand what it is and what it means for the life of a Christian.

What is Lent?

Lent is a 40-day period leading up to Easter. The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring, when the days lengthen. It’s not a biblical command or event. And you won’t find Jesus teaching his disciples about Lent.

Within the 40 days of Lent, you find a few events:

  • Ash Wednesday
    The beginning of the Lenten period. There is no specific biblical account that marks this day. instead, it’s symbolic. The ash symbolizes grief and sorrow over sins and repentance through the death of Jesus on the cross.

  • Palm Sunday
    Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem when he was celebrated as a triumphant king days before the same crowd demanded his death (John 12:12-19). This marks the beginning of Holy Week, which remembers the final week of Jesus’s life before his crucifixion.

  • Maundy Thursday

    The Last Supper where Jesus gives instructions for communion (Matthew 26:26-29).

  • Good Friday

    Jesus’s crucifixion and death on the cross (Luke 23:26-43).

But why 40 days? The period of Lent connects us to some important biblical accounts.

  • Noah spent 40 days on the ark during the flood (Gen. 8:17).
  • The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness (Ex. 16:35).
  • Moses spent 40 days fasting while on Mount Sinai with God (Ex. 34:28).
  • Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4:2).

These are all stories of testing and trials. They speak of sacrifice, often including fasting, prayer, and other traditional Christian disciplines or practices. During these events, God works on hearts and minds, leading his people to a deeper recognition of their sins and their need for a savior.

The Heart of Lent

Lent is a time to recognize the depth of our sins and cry out to God about the brokenness around us—and within us (Job 42:6). It provides space to grieve how this world currently operates and to long for a renewed relationship with God through his sacrifice as Jesus (John 13:34).

When Lent comes around each year, we get to enter something like a wilderness experience where we make dramatic changes so that our normal creature comforts don’t shield us from our true need for Jesus. Lent invites us to escape from the life of flesh and into the life of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:17-21).

Remember, Lent is not a scriptural command, though it has some scriptural references and connections. Instead, it’s a historical period the church has adopted to help Christians leading up to Easter Sunday.

This raises some questions: Should I participate in Lent? Is it beneficial even if it’s not a biblical command? Am I doing something wrong if I take part? Some of us have different church backgrounds that can complicate this topic or lead us to misuse this season.

Misusing Lent

The Lenten tradition is rich with beauty—giving language to biblical practices and providing a healthy outlet to use them as a reminder of our need for Jesus. However, there is a history of Christians misusing Lent. This happens when Lent becomes:

  • Duty-driven

    I give up (fill in the blank) because that’s what God wants from me.

  • Approval-driven

    I give up (fill in the blank) to prove to God that I love him.

  • Bargaining

    I give up (fill in the blank) so God gives me what I want from him.

  • Ritualistic

    I do it every year because that’s what a good Christian does.

All of these are human attempts to bend Lent to our will, instead Gods.

Remember, Lent’s not a biblical command, so we don’t have to observe it. But there is something rich and beautiful that happens when we use Lent to practice dying to our earthly comforts to re-focus on our need for Christ. God can use Lent to transform our hearts, minds, and lives.

Lent in the Life of a Christian

As I've aged, I've come to realize that biblical practices (fasting, scripture memorization, prayer, sabbath, solitude) are more crucial for transformation than mere information is. While information—learning new things about God—is important, the Bible demonstrates God shaping people through wilderness experiences and spiritual practices.

Lent, a significant period for Christians, allows us to give something up, symbolizing our entry into the wilderness with Jesus. The purpose isn’t just to feel the absence but to be molded into something new—the image of Jesus—by addition rather than subtraction.

Want to give it a try? Enhance your Lenten experience with these practices:

  1. Commit to regular morning or evening prayer.
    Use Rhythm, The Crossing’s twice-daily prayer podcast, as a framework.
  2. Reflect on ways the Spirit is convicting you of sin and opening your eyes to your need for repentance.
    Don't ignore it: Why Ignoring Your Sin Won't Make it Go Away
  3. Spend Holy Week fasting and focusing on Jesus.
    Give it a try: Helpful Tips on How to Fast
  4. If already fasting, consider how denying yourself in this way adds to your life, such as using newfound energy for positive activities, engaging in meaningful conversations, cultivating family time, or immersing yourself in community.

Interested in more ideas? Find specific prayer prompts, reflection questions, and ideas for celebrating with your community as you seek to prepare your heart for Easter.