As many Christians fast or give up things in the build up to Easter, we ask How Lent works? Is it just a tradition practiced by some denominations and can it have value for all believers?
If you weren’t brought up in a denominational church you may never have celebrated Lent. You may not even know what the word means! Charismatic and Pentecostal believers don’t really talk about it and it’s not something you often hear about on Christian TV. In fact, as our Jewish roots have been restored through our Messianic brothers and sisters, you may be more inclined to participate in the Feasts of Israel, including Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Do you know how lent works? What it is Lent and why does it matter?
Firstly let’s look at the question, why is Lent a foreign word to some Christians? This is simply because many interdenominational churches don’t follow a weekly liturgy based on a church calendar. This is due to an historic break with tradition many years go, including the observance of some ‘holy days’. This break may have been valid at the time, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider these days by revisiting their spiritual significance.
So, yes, many believers today may celebrate Christmas and Easter, but for the rest of the year, they don’t have a set agenda. In contrast, denominational churches have many traditions that include an annual roll out of special days including Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. These are not days some believers may be familiar with, although everyone knows Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
And just because we don’t use these terms it doesn’t mean we don’t value what they stand for. For example, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper. We may not remember that annually but we do remember it frequently every time we take communion.
How Lent works…
In traditional, denominational church liturgy Lent is the 40 day period before Easter where churchgoers give up certain foods, often meat or sweetmeats. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday, a 40 day season of self-examination and self-denial that is also characterised by giving. All this is commendable and in keeping with Bible teaching and many of us do this anyway, we just don’t give it a name!
Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Lent is a concept that many in the interdenominational churches are beginning to find more relevant. Charismatic or Word of Faith leaders sometimes go on 40-day fasts although 10-day Daniel fasts are more common. They may not call it Lent, but fasting is just as important in Pentecostal, Charismatic and Word of Faith churches today, as is prayer and giving.
Like we can learn much from our Messianic brothers and sisters, in rediscovering key truths, we can also learn from fellow believers in the denominational churches. Today there are some outstanding leaders in the Church of England and other denominations who are helping to restore Godly traditions that challenge our theology and invite us to fine-tune our focus on God and how we serve Him.
Jesus fasted for 40 days in the Wilderness which forms the scriptural foundation for Lent so it is a Bible-based concept. We can certainly follow His example to whatever degree we choose to fast and give up something to show God how much we want to be reliant on Him. It doesn’t have to be a full 40-day fast and obviously very few people will attempt to go without food completely. (unless God specifically calls them to do so).
How Lent works in practice requires a 40-day involvement, but you can still pick up now on a fast for Lent even though there are less than 40 days to go until Easter. You can still give up treats like chocolate as many believers are doing, or coffee or social media, or whatever it is that is a significant sacrifice to you.
God is more concerned with our hearts than with a particular length of time. Some in denominational churches only fast on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent and Good Friday the last day of Lent, and every Friday in between. That’s basically fasting one day a week, and if that is more manageable for you, then start off in this way and perhaps next year you can go the full 40 days!
So, if you haven’t given up something for Lent yet, be challenged to start today and fast something and see how fasting takes you into a season of greater reliance on God and turbo-boosts your prayer life.
Derek Prince was an amazing Bible teacher. He wrote the extraordinary book, Shaping HistoryThrough Prayer and Fasting. It’s ideal for anyone who is fasting. It is amazing to think that we really can change our personal circumstances, our family difficulties our neighbourhood battles and our national problems; our world in this way.
Visit, the Church of England website if you want to know more about how Lent works and the resources they have for 2023. In a campaign entitled ‘Dust and Glory’, the C of E are inviting people to explore how they can live well with the mess of everyday life.
Also read: Fasting can be a great way to bless others