For many Protestants, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent are a bit of a mystery, a Catholic tradition that seems to have little bearing on them. While there is no direct scriptural reference to Lent, it contains aspects that many Christians can apply to their lives to deepen their spiritual walk leading up to Easter.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. Ash Wednesday is so named because Catholic priests traditionally mark a cross in ashes on the foreheads of those celebrating Lent. This is a reference to the “sackcloth and ashes” that showed repentance in the Old Testament.
The 40-day period represents roughly a tenth of a year, or a tithe of a person’s time. It also is associated with Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. Traditionally, Lent is a time to develop a deeper spiritual connection with God through simple living, prayer and fasting. Often, in addition to fasting, Lent means giving up some form of pleasure for those 40 days as a dedication to God.
Here are seven ideas for observing Lent this year.
- An electronic fast. Give up TV or some other electronic media. Or abstain from social media.
- Pray for 40 people. Each day, spend time in prayer for one of your family members, friends, neighbors or church members.
- Deepen your scripture knowledge. Do an in-depth study of a book in the Bible. Studying the book of Acts, for example, will give insight into the life of the early church.
- A partial fast. Perhaps you’re not ready for a full-fledged fast but you could give up something like soft drinks, fast food or sweets for the 40 days. Use the cravings as reminders to pray.
- Help others. There are many non-profits helping those in need, and they almost always need volunteer help.
- Visual prayer. Each day you encounter many people on the street, in stores and at work. Spend a moment to silently pray for the people you see.
- Give sacrificially. In addition to your tithe, find a worthy Christian cause to donate to. Set aside money each day for the 40 days. It doesn’t take much. Even $5 a day leads to $200 to help someone in need.