February 20, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Hebrews 4:16
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Lent approaches. Sometimes people assume that Lent is a season to do things to earn God’s favor. But, in fact, Lent is really a time to grow in your experience of God’s love and grace. In Lent we draw near to God who gives us mercy and grace to help us just when we need it.
Today is Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” if you translate that French phrase into English. Traditionally, this was a day for Christians to eat all the fat in their kitchens so that they would be encouraged to fast during the season of Lent. Lent, as you may know, begins tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras.
Growing up in a Protestant family and a secular culture, Lent meant nothing to me. I thought of it as an unfortunate burden for my Roman Catholic friends. The only time I ever used the word “Lent” was in a joke. If, while playing football with my friends, I kept dropping the ball, I might have said, “Man, I’m going to give up fumbling for Lent!” That attempt at a joke revealed the extent of my understanding of Lent, which wasn’t much! Lent was a time when some Christians had to give up things, like eating meat. If you had asked me why people did this, I would have told you that it was part of the legalistic Catholic tradition. That’s all I knew.
I now know that Christians have observed Lent for centuries. This is true for many Protestants, even though the evangelical community of my youth never recognized it. If, when I was young, you had asked me about Lent, I might have described it as the kind of Pharisaic pietism that is inconsistent with gospel-centered faith. I no longer see Lent this way, however. (Although it is important to note that nothing in Scripture requires Christians to practice Lent, and that, like any religious practice, Lent can become laden with graceless legalism.)
In the last three decades of my life, I have discovered that Lent can be a season for spiritual growth and refreshment. Above all, Lent is a time of preparation, a six-week season of readying our hearts for a deeper and truer experience of Christ’s passion and resurrection. The chief purpose of Lent is to help us know God more profoundly as we prepare to celebrate the amazing news of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Since I have learned more about what Lent really is, I have indeed experienced the spiritual benefits of this season.
Lenten practices vary widely among Christians. Historically, the season of Lent has been a time of fasting, a time for giving up something enjoyable in order to focus more fully on God. Many Christians, however, have stressed taking on a seasonal spiritual discipline during Lent rather than giving up something. Many churches sponsor special Lenten Bible studies or Lenten service opportunities. Individual Christians often use Lenten-themed materials for their personal devotions.
The point of Lenten practices, however, is not giving up or adding on. Rather, the point has to do with what happens inside of us through these practices. They are meant to help us focus more fully on God. Fasting for Lent makes us more aware of our neediness for the Lord. Lenten disciplines draw our attention to God. Thus, the point of Lent is to respond with greater intentionality to the invitation in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Yes, Lent should be a season to grow, not in legalism, but in grace.
Lent is a time to come before God with consistent intentionality, to open your heart to God’s mercy, and to make yourself even available to God’s grace. No matter what you do or don’t do during the six weeks before Good Friday and Easter, I would urge you to draw near to God regularly so that you might be renewed in your relationship with God and so that you might be ready to experience more deeply and truly the passion and resurrection of Christ. In these two world-changing events we see, understand, and experience the matchless grace of God.
How have you thought about or experienced Lent in the past? What about now?
Do you see Lent as a season in which you might draw near to God?
In what ways are you yearning to experience more of God’s grace?
You may already have decided what, if anything, you will do differently during Lent. You may have chosen to give something up or to take on an additional discipline. But if you’re wondering about what you might do (or not do) and why (or why not), you might find helpful an article I wrote called “Lent: A Time or Preparation and Growing Closer to God.”
Gracious God, I need the encouragement of Lent right now. It is so easy for my life to become full of everything except you. My concentration can be scattered, my attentiveness to your Spirit dampened. So I am grateful for a Christian tradition that interrupts my status quo and calls me back to you. Thank you.
I do not want this season to be a time of going through the motions, let alone a time for legalism that draws my heart away from you. May the things I do and the things I refrain from doing be channels of attention and grace. May they help me to focus on you, opening my heart to all that you would do in and for me.
Above all, may I draw near to you in these days. Of course, I should do this all the time. I know that. But something about setting aside a special season helps me to remember you and to approach you more intentionally. How grateful I am for the invitation to come before you and for your promise of mercy and grace!
All praise be to you, O God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Banner image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Sabbath Rest in Christ: Needed for Life’s Journey (Hebrews 3:7–4:16).
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.