What is Lent?

Lent: What, why and how?

Below is a helpful introduction to the what, why and how of Lent from Pastor Aaron.

This week begins the season of Lent in the Church calendar. Some of us grew up observing Lent and may have had negative experiences with it (giving up sweets for 40 days is no fun in any season of life but especially when you’re a kid). Others may have discovered it later in life, while for others, it might be a complete mystery.

Whatever your background with Lent, I invite you to approach it with an open heart and open mind. For me, Lent has become a meaningful season that invites me deeper into the story and heart of God.

What is Lent?

Lent is a 40-day period leading up to Easter, modeled after Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the desert, in which people create space in their lives for intentional prayer, repentance and being with God. It begins Ash Wednesday and ends Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). During Lent, people often enter into a season of fasting and increased spiritual disciplines in order to prepare for the joy of Easter.

But more than that, Lent is an invitation into a story. Lent is a season that we soak our imagination in the story of Jesus in such a way that we begin to enter into the story -- not just in our imagination but also in real life.

But in order to give the Gospel story our attention, we need to remove distractions. We need to put our lives on airplane mode, so to speak.

My wife’s parents live in Japan. It’s a 13-hour flight to get there. And I hate that moment when the flight attendant tells everyone to turn off their devices. Suddenly I’m cut off from the world. I’m cut off from emails, texts, Youtube videos, Twitter threads and Facebook comments.

But I’m not really cut off from the world, right? When my phone is in airplane mode, I’m really cut off from the stimulants and distractions that so often pull me away from the real world. I’m cut off from the notifications, news feeds and narcissism that distract me from God and the person right next to me.

Lent is like putting your life on airplane mode so you can engage in conversation with God and the people God has placed next to you. It also makes space for you to wrestle with your true emotions, your doubts and your secret sins and invite God into them. Leaning into Lent can help you shut off the false narratives of this world and enter into the story of God.

Lent has been described as a “Spring cleaning” for the soul, a season of decluttering and clearing to make room for the joy of Easter.

There are three main practices associated with Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three practices, which are all discussed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are ways of intentionally being with God and entering into His story.


If we are honest, many of us have a complicated relationship with prayer. We like the idea of the Creator of the Universe hearing our thoughts and requests. The idea of God talking back is even more exciting. But what happens when we don’t know what to say or we get distracted? Or when it feels like He isn’t speaking or isn’t answering our prayers?

I think our prayer life often suffers simply because we are in a rush or come into it with an agenda. We approach it like a business meeting in which we outline our needs and wants to God and then ask Him if He has any updates for us, as long as it doesn’t take too long. We do have other business to attend to.

Lent invites us to slow down, take our time, scrap the agenda and be in God’s presence. One way to practice prayer during Lent is to approach prayer without any lofty “goals”. The only “agenda item” is to be in His presence and experience His love.

Our lives are often lived at a 100 mile-per-hour pace that makes it easy to miss a God whose stride is much more leisurely.

Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama wrote this in his book Three-Mile-an-Hour God:

“God walks ‘slowly’ because He is love. If He is not love, He would have gone much faster. Love has its own speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed…It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not…at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.”

Lent invites us to slow down to the pace of God’s love so we can experience it in a deeper way.


When Jesus discusses fasting in the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “When you fast…” (Matt. 6:16), not “If you fast…” For Jesus, fasting was a vital aspect of life with God.

During Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus came back with Scripture: “People shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.”

These aren’t just poetic words. They are true. While fasting from food, Jesus was feasting on God’s Word and His presence, and it empowered Him!

One of the best definitions of fasting I have seen comes from the folks at Gravity Leadership: “Fasting is a way to place ourselves in the way of grace by withdrawing our reliance on earthly things so that we can feast on God’s presence and power.” A fast is a way of intentionally “becoming weak” so we can know and experience God’s strength in our lives (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Fasting can be done at any time, but many people choose to do an extended fast during the season of Lent, as a way of drawing near to God.

Some ideas for ways to fast:

  • Choose a day a week to skip two or three meals.
  • Fast from foods associated with “feasting”: chocolate, desserts, caffeine, alcohol, etc.
  • Fast from media or entertainment: social media, TV, video games, etc.
  • Give up listening to music or podcasts in the car.
  • Have “phone-free” family nights.
  • Fast from habits and comforts: shopping, following sports, looking in the mirror, makeup, parking in a spot close to the store, finding the shortest checkout line, etc.
  • Give up negativity, complaining or self-condemnation. Who knows maybe after 40 days it will become a habit?
Something important to remember: Fasting is not a way to prove yourself to God so that he will answer prayers. It is not a way to earn His love or favor. Nor is it a way to deal with habitual sin or addiction.

Also, note that Sundays aren’t included in the 40 days of Lent. You can consider Sundays as “mini Easters” leading up to Lent in which you don’t fast, but feast!


As much as Lent is inward-facing – repenting of our sin, spending personal time with God and fasting – it is also outward-facing. Almsgiving is giving money, food and resources to those in need. Generosity toward others is equally, if not more, formative than any personal act of devotion.

James 2:14 reminds us that our faith is dead without practical acts of service and care for others. Jesus identified loving God and neighbor as the most important commandments (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus also says when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison, we do so for Him (Matthew 25:31-45). Lent is a season in which we intentionally seek out ways to love and serve others, especially those on the margins.

Here are some practical ideas for almsgiving:
  • Donate to the DCV food pantry or serve at the pantry on a Monday night.
  • Save whatever money you would have spent on the thing you are fasting from (coffee, alcohol, sweets) and donate to a local nonprofit serving those in need. Or give a gift to a neighbor in need.
  • Think about the people in your neighborhood. Is anyone in need? How can you help in a practical way (lawn care, house projects, etc.)?
  • Do you know anyone who is feeling lonely? Invite them over for dinner.
  • Practice random acts of kindness, but do it anonymously. Pay for someone behind you in the drive-through, leave a gift on someone’s doorstep, write a handwritten letter of encouragement to someone.
  • Write a letter to someone in prison. If you don’t know someone incarcerated, consider getting involved with Crossroads Prison Ministries.

An Invitation
I encourage you to ask God how He might be inviting you to lean into Lent. Don’t embrace any of these practices out of a sense of obligation or guilt. Lent isn’t meant to be burdensome religious tasks but intentionally moving toward God in relationship. However you choose to observe Lent, God is with you and giving you grace for the journey!

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