Today is Ash Wednesday which means, among other things, that many Christians are deciding what to “give up” for their observance of Lent. Ash Wednesday represents the first day of Lent, the 40 day period of spiritual discipline leading up to Easter, the most important Christian holiday of the year. The name is derived from the practice of placing a cross made from ash on the forehead of the believer. Not all Christian churches or denominations observe Ash Wednesday; those who most regularly participate in Ash Wednesday services are Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. Southern Baptists have not typically promoted the concept of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Although many SBC’ers individually observe the season of Lent, in my experience the churches of the SBC as a whole do not corporately teach, encourage, or participate in Ash Wednesday and Lent. My hunch is that this primarily has to do with the fear of being too closely identified with Catholicism than it does any real objection to the theological underpinnings of the season.
The Bible does not specifically mention the idea of an “Ash Wednesday” or
“Lent.” It does, however, regularly mention the mourning of those who realize their desperate need of God and their own sinful condition. Sometimes this mourning is characterized by “sackcloth and ashes” (1 Samuel 13:19, Matthew 11:21). The principle of repentance and humbling ourselves before God is of great necessity for the Christian, not just during this time of year, but everyday. Nevertheless, I believe it is fitting for us to look inward as we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday and “crucify” ourselves once again to the ministry of Christ Jesus. How does one do that?
Here is where I believe each Christian has to think deeply about their actions for Lent. In and of itself, cutting out Mountain Dews or turning off “American Idol” for forty days won’t do a darn thing for you spiritually. There might be some health benefits or time management help, but at the end of the day those things, as good as they are, come in a distant second to the real point behind Lent. Thus, whether it be our Sunday morning worship service, our family worship, or what we decide to do for Lent, we must safeguard against doing something just to be doing something. There is nothing magical about singing a praise chorus, reciting a prayer before supper, or giving up candy bars for Lent. What gives all those good things their spiritual significance is if we do them with disciplined hearts to grow closer and more in love with God. Hey, sometimes we all just go through the motions – that’s life. But we shouldn’t be satisfied with it and we certainly shouldn’t set out just to do something because it’s “that time of the year to give something up.”
So, I would encourage you to think about what you can do for Lent. If you give up drinking Cokes, that’s great! Just as long as when you begin having a desire to pop open a Coke it drives you to remember the death and resurrection of Christ and your utter dependence on Him. Perhaps the better thing to do for Lent is to increase your quite time with God. Or open your Bible. Or actually begin talking to God. If you aren’t doing those things, then you can give up anything you want for Lent and still be in the same condition spiritually as you have been for a long time.
So I am all for observing Lent. Just so long as we do it with heart and not simply with tradition.