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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,062
February 16, 2021
Observing Lent
By Mike McManus

Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday - when we receive ashes on the forehead at church to signify "we are dust and to dust we return."

We read in Matthew 4:1-4 that Jesus "was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

The practice of receiving ashes dates from the 5th century and became a universal Christian practice by the 11th century - a period of prayer during the 40 days before Easter.

Lent is a time for repentance. These 40 days are set aside to praise and worship the Lord, to read the Bible more, and to pray more often. Christians hope that Lent helps them develop a deeper intimacy with God.

We are all sinful. We do things we know are wrong. We do not treat others as well as we should. Nor have we served others as we are called to do. Lent is a time to reflect on how we might become better Christians and draw closer to the Lord. It is a time to contemplate what the Lord did for us on the Cross - and to consider new ways to serve Him better.

Some Christians undergo full-day fasts or half-day fasts in order to emulate Christ's obedience to the Father. Others give more generously to those in need.

Christ never made a demand regarding how we are to observe Lent. Choosing to participate or not is up to each individual and his or her relationship with God.

Christ simply told the disciples, "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." (Matthew 6:16).

If we want to become holy, we must invite Christ into our lives. Our goal should be to become more selfless, more considerate of others and more giving to those in need.

By abstaining from certain foods or by skipping some meals, we can use this season to draw closer to the Lord. We can spend more time reading Scripture and memorizing some of it. Lent is a time to empathize better with those who are genuinely without luxuries or even simple needs.

Lent can also be a time to develop a more disciplined, intimate, and authentic prayer life.

Lent can help you establish a stronger sense of your need of God minute by minute and to develop a more disciplined, intimate, and authentic prayer life.

You might begin this Lent by confessing any recurring sins that are blocking your access to God and asking Him to remove those temptations to do wrong rather than to serve others.

Consider giving up one meal a day or a regular treat such as alcohol or dessert. Prayer should accompany fasting and you might consider increased giving to charity.

Lent could be an opportunity for you to grow closer to the Lord.

How? For many years, my wife and I have subscribed to a quarterly publication, "Encounter with God." It suggests a daily reading from both the Old Testament and the New Testament of 10-20 verses and then offers a one-page commentary on it. It is published by Scripture Union whose motto is "Helping people meet God every day." (To order, write

I read the suggested Scripture and commentary. My wife and I then pray. It is a discipline over some years that has enabled us to grow closer to God and to each other.

Just as Advent is a season to prepare for the birth of Christ, Lent is the season to prepare for the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a time that offers a unique spiritual opportunity to be more focused on our prayer life, our service to others and to assess more deeply our relationship with God.

May this Lent be a time for you to become close to the Lord and to serve Him better.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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