Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian Lenten season. This is the day that we begin to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter Sunday. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday. Lent is 40 days of sacrifice modeled after the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry. If you count the days you’ll end up with 46. This is because we do not count Sundays – the feast day. You are permitted to break your fast on Sundays. Initially (in the 600s) lent required you to abstain from eating meat, fish and animal products. Over the years, the Lenten fast has become more of a personal choice.
Lent is known by most people as a time to give up something you enjoy. It is, more importantly, time to get closer to God, a time for self-reflection. It’s a time when we face our humanity rather than run from it. Lent is a time to reflect on our human flaws. It’s a time to really examine the sin in our lives so that we understand and accept God’s amazing grace. Lent is 40 days of “being Christian” on purpose. We do four things during lent: fast, pray, charity work, and meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice for our lives.
In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us about how to “do” lent. But remember, you won’t find a “guide to lent” in the Bible. This season became a part of the Christian calendar in 325 AD. Back then we were still working out what Christianity would look like as an organized religion, rather than a disorganized group of people running around doing a bunch of crazy stuff.
In Matthew 6:18 Jesus warns us not to show our fasting to people. It’s not a show. Lent is not a time for jumping on Instagram to show how crazy you look without your morning coffee. Your fast is a private matter between you and God. Focus on God, not showing off to other people. Read Matthew 6:16-18 on fasting.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer is one of my favorite things in the Bible. Jesus (like me) despises public prayer of overly pious people trying to be deep. He says you shouldn’t pray to be seen by people. Prayer is just talking to God – that’s all. You don’t have to use flowery speech and big words. You don’t have to go on and on and on thinking that the more you pray the more you’ll be heard. Some of the most powerful prayers I’ve seen answered in my life are ones where I just said, “Lord, do it.” Read Matthew 6:5-15 on prayer.
One of my favorite episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm is when Ted Danson has his name listed as an “anonymous” donor but tells everyone that anonymous is him. It’s a classic display of flawed human behavior. Jesus says that when we give, it should be in secret. We shouldn’t expect fan fair. We really shouldn’t expect to put our names on plaques for giving. He said that if we get a reward for our giving down here on earth then that’s the only reward we get. Soliciting the “oooos” and “ahhhs” from people for your charity and service robs you of the blessings God has for you. Read about giving in Matthew 6:1-4.
Over the next six weeks, commit to pray and study daily. Remember your “neighbor” and give an offering of money, time or talent in honor of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.