It’s come round unseasonably early, so perhaps it’s passed you by—but Lent starts tomorrow.
A refresher for the liturgically challenged: Lent is that 40-day period before Easter—or 46 days if you include Sundays—marking Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4 v 1-13). Traditionally, Christians around the world are encouraged to follow in his footsteps of self-denial and self-discipline through fasting, prayer and, well, giving up chocolate.
Admittedly, it is all a little arbitrary (I’ve often wondered why we mark the temptation of Jesus right before Easter, when some three years separate the events in the Gospels). Plus we know that giving stuff up—following rules of our own making—will not fix the sinful attitudes of our hearts (Colossians 2 v 21-23). We’re under grace, not under law (Romans 6 v 15). Besides which, if you’ve only just finished Dry January, it might all just seem a bit much.
But one advantage of Lent is that it can give us the impetus to do the sort of things we’ve been meaning to get round to for a long time. Well—why not now? Carpe Diem! The suggestions below are good things to do at any time of the year—but there’s something about a contained window of time that helps to focus us. So, here are 6 ways to be intentional about focusing your heart on the Lord Jesus as we approach Easter.
1. Memorise a passage of Scripture
A Psalm is a good place to start—or Isaiah 53 would be pertinent ahead of Good Friday. Build up by learning a verse every one or two days. Start in the morning and keep looking at it throughout the day—keep it on a bit of paper in your wallet or tucked into your phone case. Ask a friend to join you so that you can test each other. You’ll reap the benefits of memorising Scripture not just for the next few weeks, but for years to come. Psalm 139 is one of the (very few) that I’ve managed to memorise, and recalling it—however falteringly—whenever I’m feeling alone or uncertain is a great blessing.
2. Try Fasting
Jesus assumes his followers will fast: he said “when you fast”, not “if you fast” (Matthew 6 v 16). Perhaps like me you’ve known that for a while but have never quite got round to it. This article is a great guide to getting started.
3. Read a Gospel from start to finish
It’s great to inch through Scripture line by line in our quiet times—but the Gospels can also be exciting page-turners! Pick a Gospel and commit to reading it, all the way through from start to finish—perhaps several times—before Easter Day. Be thrilled again by Jesus’ perfect life—his astounding miracles, punch-in-the-gut teaching, and gracious words—and experience afresh the horror of the inevitable climax as the Son of God is nailed to a cross.
Be thrilled again by Jesus’ perfect life—his astounding miracles, punch-in-the-gut teaching, and gracious words.
4. Take up a new prayer focus
Perhaps you could use Lent as an opportunity to pray daily for a particular area: your church, or the Muslim world or your mission partner. Or how about using Lent to write down one thing you’re thankful for at the end of every day—most of us need a reminder to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5 v 20).
5. Read that book you’ve been meaning to
You know the one—it’s probably been sat on your bedside table or shelf gathering dust for ages. How many pages/chapters would you need to read a week to get it finished by Easter? Put the trashy Tudor romance on hold if needs be (guilty as charged). Ask a friend to ask you about it in a few weeks’ time.
6. And not forgetting…
… giving something up. Chocolate, meat, smoking, social media…
Why? In a blog last year, Carl Laferton put it this way:
"If I can’t or won’t give up chocolate for forty days, am I really going to be disciplined enough to cut out completely, for life, the next sinful attitude or behaviour the Holy Spirit points out to me? This Lent you might, very privately, say to your Lord: “I know that you are my greatest need and the fulfiller of all my yearnings. But I find it hard to remember that, feel that, or live like that. This Lent, I’m giving up ………………. Lord, I know that it is a good thing; but I want to remind myself that you are my only ultimate thing."