Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
I grew up in north Louisiana, where most people are either Baptist or Pentecostal. My family was Baptist.
Baptists don’t do Lent. Pentecostals don’t do Lent either, for that matter.
To say that Lent was not a big deal in my early life would be the understatement of the year. In fact, I was in high school the first time I heard about Lent, and I was well into adulthood before I even began to understand what it was all about.
Then about 8 years ago, I moved to the very heart of Cajun country, where the people are mostly Catholic.
Catholics do Lent. And it’s a VERY big deal.
So … what’s a Baptist girl, who lives among the Cajuns, supposed to do during Lent?
Well, over time this Baptist girl has learned that Lent can be a very special time that draws a person into a closer relationship with God. I recognize that many of the practices of observing Lent are actually Biblical truths:
- making personal sacrifices to honor God
- being intentional about growing in one’s faith.
Lent can certainly be a season of intentionality about faith.
Yet, the Baptist in me would say it shouldn’t be the only time we fast or sacrifice or focus intentionally on our relationship with the Lord.
Kind of similar to Valentine’s Day …
Most people participate in celebrating Valentine’s Day, especially those of us with significant others. But there are those people who outright refuse to participate.
You might hear them say:
“Valentine’s Day is just a commercialize holiday. I can send flowers any day of the year, and it would be far more romantic than doing it on a specific day just because everyone else is sending flowers on that day too.”
This is true.
However, I always want to ask Valentine’s Day protestors:
Do you actually send flowers other days? And exactly how often during the rest of the year do you intentionally romance your spouse?
Yet, I also know that if Valentine’s Day is the ONLY time a married couple romances each other during the year, that marriage isn’t likely a healthy or happy one.
Romance is important in a marriage. Whether it’s on Valentine’s Day or another day, you gotta have some romantic overtures. Right? Which is why there is nothing wrong with specifically and intentionally making romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day. In fact, in my own experience, I have found that by observing Valentine’s Day, I am reminded to practice being romantic more often in my marriage.
I find the practice of Lent to be quite similar. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with observing Lent. In fact, these practices can be an incredibly worthwhile practice of faith.
But if Lent is the only time you focus on your faith, something is not quite right.
Several years ago, I began to observe Lent in my own special way.
Most people I know choose to give up something for Lent: caffeine, social media, sugar, TV, etc.
I rarely do Lent that way. I suppose it feels too much like a punishment, which seems like the wrong approach. After all, the goal of Lent isn’t to punish myself. The goal is to grow in my faith and relationship with God.
That’s why instead of giving up something for Lent, I choose to make my sacrifice through positive changes. Each Lent I try to pick one new thing to do that I feel like will draw me into a closer relationship with God.
In the past, I have attempted to memorized a lengthy scripture (or one shorter Bible verse each week) or maybe volunteer my free time with a local ministry. But the best thing I ever did for Lent was to read my Bible.
Up until a few years ago, I had been hit or miss with daily Bible reading. Truthfully, I was more miss.
I might do really well for a couple of weeks, and then not read the Bible at all (outside of church) for the next month. I could not seem to get into the habit of reading the Bible each day.
As a result, I often felt weak in my faith, as well as guilty for not having a time set aside each day to connect with God personally. I knew I should be reading God’s word, but I just wasn’t disciplined enough to make it happen.
Therefore, that particular Lent I decided my focus was going to be simply reading God’s word each day.
I did not rely on using a devotional book. I didn’t search out any Bible study to help me decide what to read, or listen to Bible teachers who would give me insights into what I read.
It was just God, me, and my Bible for 15-20 minutes.
Reading the Bible every day has been a faith game changer for me.
You cannot know God if you don’t have interactions with Him. In Christian circles, we talk about how we connect to God, and often the main answer is through prayer. Prayer is definitely an essential part of the Christian faith. It is when we talk to God.
Bible reading is more about God talking to us. It’s not the only way He speaks into our lives. The Holy Spirit can move us through a myriad of ways, but Bible reading is one of the biggest ways God reveals Himself.
Here are just a few Scriptures that tell us why the Word of God is so important for Christians to know.
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. ~ Psalms 119:105
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and mind … Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. ~ Deuteronomy 11:18-19
If knowing God’s Word is important, then we need to be diligent about studying it.
Back when I was a college student, I spent quite a bit of time studying my textbooks. I read every assignment diligently, highlighting the important sections and copying facts directly from the text into my notebook. I did this because I wanted to understand the material and make a good grade in my class.
If the Bible is the definitive book on God and Christian living (and it is), then we should diligently study it.
This means actually reading the Bible for ourselves.
All of it. Not just the New Testament. The whole thing. Not skipping over the parts we don’t like or have trouble understanding.
We also shouldn’t replace opening our Bible with the reading of devotionals. There is nothing wrong with reading books specifically about the Christian faith these books cannot begin to compare to actually reading the Bible for ourselves.
The reason for this is that we do not need any other human to interpret the Bible for us. The Holy Spirit is able and willing to impart wisdom to us through the words of the Bible. All we have to do is ask for His wisdom.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have told you. ~ John 14:26
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. ~ 1Corinthians 2:13
The words of the Bible are unlike any other book.
The more you read it, the more you will want to read it. The more you begin to understand, the more you realize how much more you still have to learn.
Hebrews 4:12 says this: For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.
Simply put: Bible reading is powerful.
Perhaps you are looking for a way to grow in your faith. Maybe you are pondering what you should give up for Lent.
Then allow me to suggest that if you aren’t already in the habit of doing so, a great option would be to make Bible reading a daily habit.
It won’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time. Simply open your Bible and begin reading.
If you don’t know where to start, then I suggest that you begin with the book of John. It is an encouraging book that focuses on who Jesus is, the events of His earthly ministry, and how we can receive the gift of salvation.
Additionally, there are 21 chapters in John, none of which are extremely long. Scientists tell us that it takes about 21 days of consistently doing something new in order to make it a habit. If you read a chapter in John each day, then at the end of the book of John you will have created a new habit of reading the Bible.
Bible reading is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to grow in faith.
If you haven’t started this life-changing habit yet, this Lent is a great time to begin!
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Several years ago, I wrote about my first experiences with Ash Wednesday. It’s by far the most read post on this blog. If you haven’t read it before, or if you would like to reread it, here’s the link: A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday