Undoubtedly, the Lent is the holiest time of the year, with many Christians dedicating this season to fasting and prayer, just as our Lord Christ had done when He fasted for forty days following His Theophany. Through the blessed Lenten journey we observe Christ’s earthly ministry. We follow our Lord from His baptism in the Jordan, all the way to the foot of the cross, and beyond. In essence, we witness the means by which our Lord set about to restore man to his former glory. The Lenten journey is therefore a season of renewal for each of us, a time where we get serious about our walk with Christ, and personal about our spiritual progress. So with that in mind, let’s go and get personal.
Let’s Get Personal About Lent
The church in all wisdom has established this Lenten season in order to grant us the opportunity to enrich our faith and deepen our walk with Christ by doing more…
more praying, and
These are the spiritual practices that the church advocates in this blessed season, and for good reason. Each of these practices is essential to enriching our walk with Christ, so much so that together, prayer fasting and almsgiving are commonly referred to as the three pillars of Lent. The chant below illustrates just how these great pillars work together to fill our hearts with a desire to commune with God.
With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at each of these great pillars as well as other personal and practical ways by which we can grow this Lent.
The Three Great Pillars of Lent
Fasting is not only an ascetic practice by which we can control the urges of the body, rather this ancient practice brings with it great power and spiritual blessings. Fasting brings tremendous rewards for those who seek to deepen their relationship with God, since it puts the body under subjection in order for the spirit to be lifted. Since Adam broke communion with God through an act of disobedient eating, Christ, the second Adam, placed great emphasis on fasting as a means by which we can restore the communion with God which we once had.
St Clement of Alexandria beautifully describes the mystical power of fasting and its effect on our life in Christ:
The teachings of Christ, as echoed by the early church fathers is that fasting must be accompanied by prayer if it is to be of any use whatsoever.
Therefore if you are not praying, do not attempt to fast!
Prayer however, when combined with fasting, elevates the soul to the Kingdom of God. For fasting frees the flesh from all worldly desires in order for the soul to connect with the Lord in prayer. In other words, prayer and fasting work together to liberate us from the bondage to our ego in order that we may be free to worship the One True God.
Such liberation is depicted in the ancient letter to Diognetus,
And when it comes to prayer, notice the striking imagery found in the Holy Bible which portrays the significance and grandeur of our simple prayers in the sight of God:
‘Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’ – (Revelation 5:8)
‘Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.’ – (Revelation 8:3-4)
Not only that, but in Psalm 22, the Psalmist David depicts the Lord Himself as being enthroned in the praises of His people. Such is the prominence given to our prayers as they are offered before the Lord.
The Lent season is also a time when we ought to focus more intently on almsgiving. Through almsgiving we honour the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) and show love to our fellow man. Our Lord Christ had pity and mercy on us when He gave His life for our sake. Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate expression of almsgiving, since the very word stems from the Greek word meaning ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’. In giving alms therefore, we imitate, at some basic level, the sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross.
Saint Basil who had much to say about the topic of almsgiving has this to say:
Do all things with Sincerity
Although the three great pillars of the Lent are capable of transforming our lives and nourishing us spiritually, they must only be exercised with sincerity and humility. For God does not look at the outward appearance but what’s in the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The Scribes and the Pharisees fasted, they gave alms, and they prayed, but they were condemned the more so for doing so:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” – (Matthew 6:16-18)
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” – (Matthew 6:5-6)
“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” – (Matthew 6:2-4)
Other practical ways to grow this Lent
Besides keeping the three pillars of Lent, there are many other ways by which we can grow closer to God in this blessed season. Below are ten practical ways, but there are certainly many others that you can work through under the guidance of your spiritual father.
- Read a spiritual book.
There are many suitable books for this season, but my personal recommendations include:
- Ascending the Heights – John Mack
- Orthodox Prayer Life – Fr Matthew the Poor
- The specified Lenten service readings of your church
- Read the Bible.
Particularly the books which are ideal for this season such as Isaiah, Proverbs, Psalms, Jeremiah, and of course the Gospels.
- Attend Bible Study at your church.
And in particular seek out spiritual, ascetic or life lessons to apply during Lent.
- Develop a spiritual habit.
Focus your attention on developing a spiritual practice. The Lenten season is the ideal time to make a habit stick. You might want to consider adopting a morning/evening prayer ritual, committing to scripture memorisation or any other spiritual habits.
- Focus on defeating a recurring sin.
This is the time of year in which your fasting and prayers could be directed at overcoming a sin with which you have been struggling.
- Develop a virtue.
Pick a virtue that you’d love to develop and make an intentional effort to practice it daily. Humility for instance is a wonderful virtue to practice, and it is fitting for this season when you consider how the Lord emptied Himself of Glory for our sake.
- Repentance and Confession.
This is the season of repentance! Use it to your advantage and return your heart to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6: 37)
- Commit to a service.
There are many services in the church which you can choose to get involved with. As mentioned this is the season of almsgiving and the church provides many avenues for you to do so.
- Commit to the Lent services.
Make the pledge to commit to attending as many of the Lenten services as is possible. Or if you are unable to attend the services, perhaps you can aim to complete the readings assigned to the services.
- Keep a spiritual journal.
Spiritual journaling is certainly an undervalued spiritual practice. Perhaps you can endeavour to keep a spiritual journal throughout this season in order to keep focus on your spiritual progress and practices.
The aim of these practical steps is to ensure we utilise this holy and precious season of Lent, for as St John Chrysostom instructs:
‘The fast of Lent has no advantage to us unless it brings about our spiritual renewal. It is necessary while fasting to change our whole life and practice virtue.’ – St John Chrysostom
May God bless your attempts to deepen your relationship with Him in this blessed Lenten season.
To God be the glory