Editor's note:

Lent begins on February 14 this year. We invite you to experience the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday with one of our Lenten guides. Author Kai Nilsen joins us today to share the beauties of observing the ancient rhythms of the Church calendar and explain why Lent is a season “marked in days, but lived in grace.”

Be sure to visit our pages for these resources (linked at the end of today’s piece) to learn how to receive e-book copies of both devotionals as our thank-you for any donation in the month of February. 

May your season be rich with blessings!

—Renovaré Team

More than a decade ago, I gathered with a group of local pastors, representing many denominations, to discuss a joint worship service. As we were agreeing on a time for the service, one of my pastoral colleagues noted that the date we had selected was on a Wednesday night in the season of Lent. He wondered if that would be an issue for some of the liturgical churches.

The Senior Pastor of the local independent Baptist church was quick to respond. “Lent? What’s that? Are you talking about the fuzzy stuff I often find in my belly button?”

We had quite a laugh. Yet, his comment exposed the gulf that lies between the current streams of the Christian tradition when thinking about and practicing the rhythms of the church year. Ironically, ten years later, this same Baptist church created a daily Advent devotional for their congregation in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Liturgical Renewal? Possibly. I would suggest that many parts of the modern church movement are awakening to the beauty of ritual and the recurring rhythms of the church that embed the life of God deeply within our souls. The season of Lent is one of those recurring rhythms that ritualizes the beauty of God’s life-giving, redemptive work in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Though the concept of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, was being articulated as early as the second century, the liturgical season of Lent seems to have taken form in the 4th century. The Council of Nicea (325) called for two gatherings of the synods, one of which was to be held before the forty days of preparation for Easter. By the end of the 4th century, the forty days of Lent had become integrated into the yearly rhythm of the Christian community as they prepared, primarily through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer, for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

The number forty has both biblical and spiritual significance. We recall the forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the people of Israel. Moses communed with God on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, eating no bread nor drinking water, as he inscribed the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 34:28). Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb for forty days and forty nights without food nor drink (I Kings 19:8). We also remember Jesus being led by the Spirit, following his baptism, into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). In each case, whether forty years or forty days, the number forty spoke not only to a span of time but also a span of God’s ongoing presence experienced in trial and temptation, through accumulated wisdom and insight, and by God’s sustaining grace and love.

This is the forty-day journey of Lent. It is marked in days, but lived in grace.

The Invitations of Lent

Lenten practice, in Eugene Peterson’s words, “sweeps out the clutter of the god-pretentious self, making ample space for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it embraces and prepares for a kind of death that the culture knows nothing about, making room for the dance of resurrection.” With that in mind, we at Renovaré offer two devotional resources—one centered in disciplines of abstinence (the death), and the other centered in disciplines of engagement (the dance)—to guide us as we press into the season of Lent.

Less is More: A Lenten Guide for Personal Renewal helps us make space by prompting intentional reflection on the aspects of our lives that stand in the way of walking in God’s spirit. Each week, a classic spiritual discipline provides the entry point for self-examination, God reflection, and godly action.

  • Confession: Less Guilt/More Grace
  • Solitude: Less Noise/More Listening
  • Fasting: Less Consumption/More Compassion
  • Simplicity: Less Stuff/More Freedom
  • Frugality: Less Spending/More Peace
  • Intercession: Less Me/More Others
  • Reflective Reading of Holy Week Story: Less Fear/More Love

Engage: A Lenten Guide for Spiritual Growth helps us prepare for the “dance of resurrection” by inviting us into a week-by-week journey of engagement.

  • Ash Wednesday Week: Submission
  • Week One: Study
  • Week Two: Worship
  • Week Three: Celebration
  • Week Four: Service
  • Week Five: Community
  • Holy Week
  • Easter Sunday

Our hope is that daily immersion in the life of God through these disciplines becomes a life-giving habit that extends well beyond this season of Lent.

Learn more about Engage: A Lenten Guide for Spiritual Growth and Less is More: A Lenten Guide for Personal Renewal. We are grateful to be able to offer e-book editions of both of these resources with any donation in the month of February 2018.

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

Learn more >