Why Should Christians Participate in Lent?

Aaron Damiani
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When God calls His people into the wilderness, He puts their whole existence on airplane mode. I resist this, and so might you. It means feeling out of control and out of the loop. Our go-to stimulants and stories are no longer on tap. We can no longer anesthetize our emotions. We can no longer avoid a conversation with our Father. It might feel like a restrictive punishment, but it’s actually a heavenly gift. Lent is indeed a wilderness, and there are several reasons why we can and should enter it.

Because the Gospel is True

We enter the wilderness of Lent because the gospel is true. We do not go into the wilderness to find God. We enter the wilderness because God has found us. He has delivered us, blessed us, and called us His own. The desolation and quiet gives us space to ponder the great salvation we have already witnessed. Even our struggles and failures in the wilderness teach us the truth of the gospel.

Consider the people of Israel. They journeyed into the wilderness after watching their oppressors drown in the Red Sea by the hand of God. Exodus details the song of praise that carried them out of Egypt: “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. . . . Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea” (Ex. 15:2, 4).

The wilderness was not where Israel earned their salvation. It is where they internalized what it meant to be saved. In a desolate place, salvation came that shattered the earth. Bread fell from heaven; water gushed from a rock. The multitudes were fed by faith and with thanksgiving. The Living Word was in their midst, working beautiful and wild miracles, changing slaves into sons. With each nourishing meal, the tyranny and pretense of Egypt lost its grip. It took Israel forty years to realize they were the Lord’s treasured possession, not Pharaoh’s unworthy slaves.

Consider Jesus, true Israel. He entered the wilderness with his Father’s baptismal endorsement ringing in His ears: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Unlike Israel, and us, He had no false attachments of which to repent. His forty-day fast made space for Him to bask in His Father’s love and to draw upon the Spirit’s power. When the devil tempted Him with fantasies of dazzling self-love and godless power, Jesus was ready. He shut down the demonic chatter with the Word of God, which lived inside Him.

In the Lenten wilderness, our fantasies of glory, fear, or pleasure can give way to the reality of God’s glory, love, and holiness. God acts in history, and we enter the wilderness to give our imaginations a chance to catch up.

To Prepare for Easter

We enter the wilderness of Lent to prepare for Easter. Why is Lent forty days?[1] Practically speaking, it takes at least that long to prepare our hearts for Easter. As Dallas Willard put it, “One drop of water every five minutes won’t get you a shower.”[2] We need to be immersed in the reality of the kingdom of God for big doses at a time before we start seeing its impact on our lives. The same is true for Easter Sunday—and the “Eastertide” Sundays that follow. We need more than a Good Friday service two days in advance to get into the state of mind and heart to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and hell. We cannot prepare for Easter over the weekend. No, we need to walk a longer pilgrimage to get ready.

Lent is not our ultimate destination. The wilderness fast is temporary, thanks be to God!

Most importantly, the forty days draw us into the gospel drama that Jesus lived. He went into the wilderness before us, and He goes there again with us. He knows that the struggle is real, that our frame is weak, and that we are dust. Because we are united to Him, His forty days become ours.

To Get to the Promised Land

We enter the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. Lent is not our ultimate destination. The wilderness fast is temporary, thanks be to God! The bright light of the resurrection is ahead. Can you see it? In fact, the word Lent derives from the old Saxon word for “spring,” and Christians of Eastern traditions love to refer to the “Bright Sadness” that marks every Christian who will endure the darkness leading up to Easter.

A Time Between

In the Lenten Spring, winter is giving way to summer—life and sunrise and a great feast are ahead. Each day’s light is longer than the last. Lent, then, is a profound picture of the Christian journey. It stands between our deliverance and our home. It is a time of faith and longing, hope and expectation.

No, we are not ready for Easter. Not yet. But with the world behind us and the cross before us, we go repenting and rejoicing one faltering step at a time. And everything sad is coming untrue.

[1] The forty days of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday and end on the Saturday before Easter. Sundays in Lent do not count toward the forty days, as every Sunday belongs to the “New Creation” and is therefore a “feast” day.

[2] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1998), 356.

For Further Reading:

The Good of Giving Up

by Aaron Damiani

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