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Should Protestants Participate in Lent?

Should Protestants participate in Lent? It's Fat Tuesday & people are deciding what to give up & debating about participating. Maybe we're missing the point?

Should Protestants participate in Lent?

It’s Fat Tuesday and people are racing to decide what to give up for Lent. In Christian circles, I’ve seen a lot of debate over how to or who should participate in Lent. While my initial answer on this will be clear as mud, hopefully it will make sense to those in the same place I am spiritually.

The answer is yes and no.

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No, they SHOULD not. The Bible doesn’t outline Lent as a requirement of the faith. We need to be cautious in adding things to what the Bible says salvation requires.

John 20:31 ESV But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Some Christian denominations have made Lent an ostentatious ritual that secures salvation or God’s blessing in our lives. This kind of thinking is not based in scripture. The book of John alone contains so many verses explaining that our belief in Christ is all God asks of us for salvation.

We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do will impress God. As Romans explains, none are righteous, not one. We all have turned away from God in our sin. In John, Jesus teaches that it is through the Father’s calling that we come to Christ. God draws us to Himself.

We choose to listen and obey His calling, but we cannot earn salvation.

Romans 3:28 ESV For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Our faith justifies us. No participation in rule-following (or in Lent) justifies us. Our belief informs our actions, so our works demonstrate our faith, but do not save in and of themselves.

When we say SHOULD Protestants participate in Lent, we risk making it a requirement.

We humans do such a good job of taking the things of the Spirit and boiling them down into a set of rules and ruining them. Some things cannot be codified into a set of humanly discernible guidelines. They have to be known in the heart. We can’t always look at someone and instantly recognize their level of spiritual maturity based on an external behavior, but God sees their heart.

We are always wanting to measure our spirituality or level of good ‘Christianness’ against some external measuring tape, and too often, we run rampantly over the Gospel.

I’ve seen Christians taking good ideas and creating separation within the body of Christ. We create this mental list of things good Christians do or don’t do.

Good Christians:

  • Don’t have pagan Christmas trees, but only Jesse trees
  • Attend a small or home church exclusively
  • Don’t pay for cable television
  • Homeschool
  • Don’t celebrate Easter, but Resurrection Day
  • Participate in Lent
  • Don’t do Santa or the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.
  • Celebrate the Jewish festivals in addition to our Christian holidays
  • Learn Greek and Hebrew words for Biblical study

I’m sure the list could go on and on what “good” Christians should or should not do in our minds, but very few of these things are in scripture.

Oh wait, NONE of them are.

That’s right, we’ve taken some meaningful, deep personal convictions of some and turned them into a checklist of behaviors that were never meant to be rules! None of these are bad things. Some of them are even very good things, but they are not required things.

When we take a spiritual conviction and make it into a ritual, we make it a fleshly requirement. My daily Bible reading or devotions can become dry and dead if I see those things as a fleshly requirement of my Christian checklist instead of an spiritual opportunity to bask in the presence of God.

So, should Protestants participate in Lent?

Not necessarily, But we CAN.

Within Christ we have the freedom to do anything that honors Christ and does not detract from another’s walk.

If we approach the season of Lent as one of fasting in an effort to draw closer to God, then we have the blessed freedom to participate in Lent. Fasting can be a way to break strongholds in your life and demonstrate total surrender to Christ.

Some Christians might still see Lent as a denominational ritual, but if God is pressing into your heart to fast, go ahead and fast. Fast from fatty food. Fast from processed sugar. Even fast from television or coffee or Facebook or pizza.

Last year, I chose to give up something a little strange, but it was a powerful reminder who is ultimately in control of my life if I am taking up my cross daily.

If the purpose in your fast is to lean into Christ, to honor His sacrifice by sacrificing, then go for it! God’s word is full of scriptures telling us to fast. There are many documented spiritual and physical benefits to fasting.

But again, there is no should here. Participating in Lent should be a response to a quiet calling of the Spirit in your heart to set down something that you’ve struggled to believe you could let go, or abstaining for a season from something that has taken your focus and attention from Him.

But any fasting should be primarily between you and God.

Matthew 6:16-18 ESV “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

God sees how we live in secret. It is there the fast draws us to Him. When we share about our fasting whether for Lent or another time, it should be for the edification of others and the glorification of the Lord, not to earn any earthly praise.

I share my fast because I love how God lays just the thing on my heart each year on Fat Tuesday what He wants from me, what lesson He has for me to learn.

My fast this year is from delivery pizza.

That may sound ridiculous, but in my heart, I am surrendering to a new call in my life.

My husband started a new job this week. He is working longer hours, later nights, and won’t be home to make dinner anymore. While I am a stay-at-home mom, I also write and work and homeschool, so I’m busy all day, everyday. And my husband loves to cook. In cooking, he can express himself and play with recipes. He is really talented!

However, I want food to magically appear on the table at 5:30. I don’t enjoy spending hours to make something that will be devoured in twenty minutes. I literally lived on Lean Cuisine the last time he was in Iraq.

But, if I can set down my selfishness and embrace this change to our family routine, joyfully do more of the cooking and meal planning, as a way of supporting my husband in this new chapter of his career. Giving up delivery pizza reflects an acceptance of my responsibility to plan our meals, even if it’s frozen pizza and salad.

And I’m embracing the role of serving God through caring for the family He has given to me. Serving others doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m always willing to drop everything and listen, encourage, instruct, but not always make a meal.

And learning to serve others outside of my gifting and preferences has to begin in my heart and home before my ministry can truly flourish.

Should Protestants participate in Lent? If God calls you to do so, you have the beautiful freedom to decide for yourself.

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Today isn’t going to be super deep, just celebrating getting something right and seeing the fruits of my preparation blossom, and I wanted to share this skill because I know I’ve seen how this improves our lives time and time again.

Something I have seen as a teacher is the importance of previewing activities. As a teacher, we preview to help students understand the objectives in a new lesson, to tie in previous learning to the new skills, and to clarify the purpose and procedure of the activity. Previewing is literally the best tool in my parenting toolbox because it prevents issues. Rather than be reactive to a crisis, previewing allows me to be proactive.

As a mom, I’ve learned that children really need to understand what to expect prior to a new activity. Kids naturally have concerns about anything unknown. The more we can preview upcoming events, the more smoothly things tend to go.

Yesterday was the perfect example of how my previewing new experiences helps my daughter cope. Yesterday, she had her very first dentist visit. She should have started going much earlier, but I became a walking medical emergency for the past two years, and finding a new dentist just got set aside for the more crucial crises, like spending months immobilized in a hip brace.

Around the age of two, I started previewing her trip to the dentist. I bought books about teeth and a trip to the dentist. We’ve read the book casually over the past two years. If I were planning for a more immediate event, I would read the book every week or everyday depending on how soon the new activity would be.

Every time Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Sesame Street talked about the dentist, I would talk to her about going, explain what the dentist does. The day of the dentist, we watched an episode of 19 Kids and Counting about taking all the smaller children to the dentist.

Then we got to the dentist. I had my visit first, so she could see that having my teeth cleaned was easy. She held my hand and asked me if it hurt or felt good. I smiled, told her it felt fine, that I wasn’t scared or nervous.

Then it was her turn. She was so excited, but a little nervous. She folded her little fingers in that big chair and prayed. “Dear God, please let me be brave and not be scared. Amen.”IMG_4500.JPG

And she was all smiles. After the initial check of her teeth, she yelled, “It worked. My prayer worked! I’m not scared!” She continued to sit quietly (which was a feat in and of itself) and still during the teeth “sparkling.” Her teeth were perfect, and so was her behavior.

The visit was a success. She was so excited. She told everyone all day about going to the dentist. In fact, she was so overjoyed that I joked she doesn’t need Chuck E. Cheese, we’ll just plan her birthday party at the dentist.

Previewing the trip to the dentist helped her be prepared for what to expect. I did the same thing with her last round of immunizations, and she did great. I held her hand, looked in her eyes, and she almost cried, but we smiled together. She laughed and smiled while we put on the band-aids. She was so proud that she got four shots and didn’t cry. The nurses even let her choose two prizes from the treasure chest.

I always preview with a cheery, hopeful tone. I always talk about the importance of what we’re doing and give her confidence in her ability to go through whatever the situation is. We’re already previewing school and riding the bus with how to act and what the experience will be.

Last year, I previewed going to the library for the first time, so she would know how to behave and what to expect. We even previewed going to a friend’s birthday, so she would understand giving her a gift and not helping her blow out the candles.

I may never know how she would have handled the situations without previewing, but I know that she was able to face many new situations with confidence and joy. We were able to enjoy lots of new experiences together.

We all fear the unknown. As a parent, giving my daughter the confidence and knowledge to face new situations will prepare her to face many new things in the years to come.

As a Christian, knowing that my salvation is secure, that I can trust in the future in Heaven, helps me face the unknown here.  My heavenly father previews the life of a Christian, that the world will be harsh and reject us, but that we can know we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:13 ESV “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Reading the Bible, hearing God’s promises of salvation, forgiveness, and a home in Heaven for our eternity, helps us live with a peacefulness and grace even in the darkest times because we know we are not alone. God has already claimed victory.

Nothing has changed my heart, my life, my parenting than claiming this promise because it changed my entire perspective.

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The Faith of a Child

The faith of a child is magical. If we point them in His direction, God truly works in them in ways we cannot understand. Only if we all had such faith.

The faith of a child is magical. If we point them in His direction, God truly works in them in ways we cannot understand. If only we all had such faith.

I realized the incredible beauty in the sweet faith of a child as I watched my daughter developing her own.

I had renewed my commitment to Christ, but hadn’t quite allowed His grace to extend to my mothering. God convicted me that my “perfect” parenting meant I wasn’t letting God be in control of her life.

I was still trying to get it right my way!

For both of our sakes, I needed Him to intervene in my heart, so I could learn to share my faith with her in ways that make it living and active in her life.

Romans 10:17 ESV “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

To build the faith of a child, they needed to see and hear and live God’s word.

I had to demonstrate my faith daily, especially in front of my daughter, making a point to live out loud for Him, which meant talking my inner prayer dialogue with her.

Building the faith of a child required living mine more completely, more transparently. Click To Tweet

We talked about obeying God when I made hard choices, when I lost my temper, when we struggled with using our kind voices.

The faith of a child is magical. If we point them in His direction, God truly works in them in ways we cannot understand. Only if we all had such faith.

We thanked God for each new day, for sending His son. We read her bible together, and I spent more time in mine.

After awhile, she began asking questions like, “Do I have Jesus in my heart?” “Am I a Christian?”

I answered she is learning who God is, and when she is old enough to understand, she can choose to ask Jesus into her heart.

With the innocent faith of a child, she asked to do it then, but I wasn’t sure if she really understood.

She was so little, only 4. She didn’t even understand the days of the week yet. How could I let her make this huge decision so young?

How young is too young to make a decision for Christ? Should we ask them to wait? #faithofachild Click To Tweet

Proverbs teaches,

Proverbs 22:6 ESV “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I became a Christian at 6, but have turned away from my faith many times. Only God’s grace has brought me back, and I really want to show her a faith that avoids falling away.

I really want her to know God’s love and Christ’s redemption, but I had concerns about her actual comprehension of what it all means.

But when she asked again a few months later, I could hear Jesus tell me not to turn her away from wanting to follow Him.

Even when Jesus was exhausted and weary, he would not turn away the children.

Mark 10:13-16 ESV “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

Maybe she doesn’t quite understand yet all the details, but she knows she loves Jesus. And when Jesus said to let the children come to Him, He further taught that we adults should should strive to have the faith of a child ourselves.

So, we stopped eating lunch and prayed together.

“Dear Lord, she wants Jesus to be her savior, to come into her heart. If this is her time to come to you, Lord, please draw her close to and continue to work in her heart. If not, stay close and protect her until she’s truly ready.”

Then I let her pray what she wanted to say. “Dear Jesus, I want you in my heart to help keep the ‘debil’ out and God in me so I know how to not be naughty.” It was sweet and beautiful.

I don’t know if it was truly her decision day, but I don’t believe choosing Jesus is a magical formula of a single prayer. It is a daily life-long dying to our flesh and choosing Jesus as savior.

For now, I have to just keep living my witness; being real in my need for forgiveness when I fail.

Titus 2:7-8 “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…”

 And celebrate with the angels over my sweet daughter tonight.

Luke 15:10 ESV “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Wish I could have heard the singing. I can only imagine.

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