I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that practiced Lent. I remember seeing what looked like dirt on a friend’s forehead and trying to inconspicuously tell him that he should wipe it off. I vaguely remember talk of “Fat Tuesday” and always assumed it was just one more reason to eat donuts. I never made the connection between a day of feasting before a season of fasting. It seems like every year I think about the benefits of observing Lent, but seldom make it an official practice in my own life. I know there are pitfalls to any spiritual practice. Spiritual devotion can quickly become spiritual pride. Nevertheless, there are benefits worth considering.
A focus on the depth of our own sin can drive us to the surplus of God’s grace. This is one of the benefits that Chuck Colson points out in his article titled “Why Bother with Lent?” He writes: Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love. With Good Friday approaching, visions of Jesus’ gruesome death remind us of the dreadful reality of sin. Here, our individual and corporate brokenness is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection. Though selfexamination can turn into narcissistic navel gazing, such abuses should not foreclose on a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ.
But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God’s grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.
Confident of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin’s pollution. God’s grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents. With David, we are free to pray,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24)
Searching us, God discovers nothing unknown to him (Ps 139:1-3), but discloses the secrets of our hearts, allowing us to know ourselves. Under his tender scrutiny, God exposes, not to shame, but to heal. Thus, turning inward, we are led upward to find consolation, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, such piety isn’t the exclusive property of any church season, but Lent provides a unique setting for this self-examination.
Whatever you decide to do (or not do) this season, I encourage you to be intentional about considering our great need and how it is met in God’s greater grace.