What does Lent mean to you?
You are probably aware that Lent is the period between Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and Easter Sunday. You may also be aware that in traditional churches people fast from rich foods during that period, hence using up fat and sweet foods on Shrove Tuesday. You may also be aware that the period is often referred to as 40 days, yet if you look at the calendar there are actually 46 days. The reason for this is that in traditional churches Sundays are not considered to be fast days. So actually if you chose to give up chocolate for Lent you are at liberty to eat chocolate on Sunday! Same goes for anything else that you might choose to give up for that period.
So where does the idea of 40 days come from?
It is generally accepted that the reason for the 40 days is that Jesus, after he was baptised, was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. Jesus' fast was total, so he abstained from any food and only drank water. The scriptures tell us that at the end of the period he was hungry. People often comment that this is a rather obvious statement. In reality it is somewhat surprising because people who have undertaken prolonged fasts find that after the initial discomfort early on their body gets used to not taking in food and the hunger pains subside.
Why did Jesus fast?
Apart from telling us that the Holy Spirit led him to fast the bible doesn't explicitly give us a reason. It is clear that it marks a period between his baptism and the start of his ministry. Probably this suggests that before Jesus began his ministry he wished to spend some time away from his previous occupation as a carpenter alone and in God's presence. Ministers in the traditional churches will often go away for 'retreats', sometimes for quite long periods prior to ordination or commencing new responsibilities such as taking on a new church. This is quiet communion with him rather than preparation of teaching material. Perhaps there is a lesson for those of us involved in any level of church ministry to take time out to be alone with God.
It is interesting that Satan chose this time to attack Jesus through temptation. One of these temptations was through food, perhaps which is why the gospels tell us he was hungry. Have you noticed that often when people step out into new arenas of ministry, or greater closeness to God that Satan increases his attempts to derail them through temptation? Perhaps you have been in a meeting where you have had a powerful sense of God calling you to take some step of faith. Often within days or even hours you are assailed with the temptation to dismiss the call, or to fall into sin that seems to disqualify you from ministry. When that happens the best defence is to follow Jesus example and remind yourself of the truths of scripture so that you can dispel Satan's attack.
Whether or not you choose to give up anything this Lent let me encourage you to carve out time to be quiet and alone with God. You will be amazed at the impact of even as little as 20 minutes in a quiet place with just your bible and perhaps a notebook and pen just once a week. Remember to put aside distractions such as computers and phones!