Why Would a Baptist Observe Lent?
Spiritual discipline doesn’t come easily. When was the last time you (1) fasted from food, skipping meals for an entire day? When were you last intentionally (2) silent, not talking, but spending extended time in (3) meditation, (4) contemplation and/or (5) prayer?
(The best book for a Protestant to read on the subject of spiritual discipline is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.)
Spiritual disciplines, other than (6) going to meetings (for example, for worship or Bible study), were not part of my childhood church. We didn’t talk about meditation or fasting, even though they are thoroughly biblical. (7) Simplicity sounded like something the Quakers would do and (8) confession something the Catholics did. Other faiths emphasize rituals, ranging from (9) chanting to (10) pilgrimage. What did any of that have to do with a Baptist?
Furthermore, we not only ignored, but we often disparaged other denominations or religions that practiced their faith in ways we didn’t understand. (11) Solitude. I never heard of God calling a Baptist to be a monk or a nun.
When I finally heard of Ash Wednesday (which falls on March 1 this year), I began to pay attention, not only to my Catholic friends who gave up meat on Fridays but also to an increasing number of young Protestant friends who forfeited Cokes for Lent. What was going on?
Discipline is a perfectly good Bible word. Proverbs 5: 23: “For lack of discipline, they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” My parents and teachers had been my disciplinarians when I was a kid. As an adult, I was on my own.
The Lenten season (a period of about forty days prior to Easter, when the days lengthen—that’s where the word “Lenten” comes from) seemed as good a time as any to restrict myself in some way, to see if I was tough enough to do something for Jesus’ sake. I doubt I’ll ever be called on to do anything really difficult, like being a martyr, but why not practice self-restraint in small ways to see what I’m made of? If I can’t give up something enjoyable for a few weeks, what kind of Christian am I? Can I give up television for Lent, even though it includes the beginning of baseball season? Can I give up sodas? Or alcohol? Can I give up Facebook? Eating red meat? Drinking coffee?
People ask me, “Can you drink tea?” or “What about Fridays?” You can do anything you choose to do. This is your discipline, your choice.
“There is grace in suffering. Suffering is part of the training program for wisdom.” Ram Dass
I have friends who try to lose weight during Lent. That’s fine, if it’s helpful. I have friends who try to give up something permanently, like cigarette smoking, by not smoking during Lent. Some add something, beginning to read their Bible daily, or journaling. Any way you can build or strengthen your character might be a worthy discipline.
Whenever I find myself thinking about and being tempted by whatever the restriction involves (coffee, TV or Twitter), I have the opportunity to consider spiritual realities: Why am I doing this?
Any soul-searching is better than spirituality as usual.