Friday, 11 April 2014

Observing Lent

By Ian Acheson

Photo courtesy of
I’d never given Lent much thought. For some reason, I know not why, I’ve thought it an outdated practice that Catholics observed. Typically, it appeared to be reduced to “what are we giving up for Lent?” In my overly judgemental moments I found it strange that apparently non-pious people chose to participate in such a “custom”.
I observed Advent for the first time the Christmas before last and found it a wonderful practice in drawing closer to the Lord each day. I love learning and discovered so much in those 20 or so days. Plus I found my desire for intimacy with the Lord increased.
During the course of January and early February last year, the Lord gave me one of those gentle nudges that got me thinking about Lent. At the same time, I noticed a Lent study by Ruth Haley Barton, whose book, “Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence” I had just finished and so enjoyed. So I promptly ordered that study.
In addition, another Bible teacher I follow, Margaret Feinberg, mentioned she was planning something exciting for Lent. So I was hooked.
 “’And yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart …’” (Joel 2:12)
Six weeks to focus more intentionally on the Lord sounded like a good plan.
What is Lent?
Well I didn’t know until I started the journey.
Ruth’s study provided some lovely insight that Lent “derives its structure and themes from Christ’s forty days’ in the wilderness, where He fasted and prayed and faced Satan’s temptations.”1 Okay, didn’t know that.
I particularly loved Ann Voskamp’s description in a post she wrote at the time:
Ann’s chatting to her brother on the phone answering his question:
“Okay … Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”
So it’s the letting go of our stuff, whatever that may be, so we’ll be even more desperate for Jesus to fill us.
Ha. I like that.
Fast forward to now
Observing Lent last year strengthened me in ways that I’ve only appreciated since it ended. Part of my experience was reading the entire Bible, which I’d never done. It left me with the enduring thought that God is just crazy about us and is never far away. I’ve been able to hold on to that through those discouraging days we all encounter when He seems especially distant.
So I’m doing it again working through a wonderful duo of books by Henri Nouwen, reading through the New Testament, and setting aside time each day just being still with the Lord.
But tell me, what are you doing for Lent?
Wishing everyone a Jesus-filled Easter.
Notes: 1. Lent, A Season of Returning, Ruth Haley Barton, Transforming Resources, (Week 1)

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. Thanks, Ian, for reminding me about the positive benefits of observing Lent. I haven't done that per se since my days of growing up in the Anglican Church in Queensland. Yet somehow, in the lead up to Easter, I just want to read one of the Gospels closely and follow Jesus' journey to the cross and beyond. Very sobering and precious. I remember when I was around 12 attending the 3 hour Good Friday service at our local church where we meditated on the stations of the cross via paintings around the church. Others went home after a while, but I wanted to stay and follow it all even then.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne, Ruth's study that I referred to walks you through those "stations". That was all new to me. Funny, I grew up in an Anglican church and still missed out on the Lenten experience.

      Great idea to read one of the Gospels and reflect on Jesus' journey.

  2. Our church does have a tradition of observing Lent - however, in the past few years, instead of "giving up" something we've been doing a programme called Count Your Blessings. which is put out by Christian Aid - It makes us conscious of how much we take for granted in the developed world and asks us to put a small amount of money away for each item. (How I cringe at the book or reading days - even at 10c for each book I've read in the last year, it's a substantial amount! I know I should be counting my blessings, but I still cringe!)

    1. Hi Annie, the "count our blessings" theme has become popular these days. Great that your church is getting around such a theme. Rita, below, refers to Ann Voskamp's book which opened my eyes to the importance of counting blessings.

      Thanks for sharing once again, Annie.

  3. I'd like to pass on a post from Alice Valdal of ICFW. This book has blessed her and would be an excellent read over Easter and beyond.

    'One Thousand Gifts is by Ann Voskamp. Here the author recounts how she challenged herself to write down one thousand blessings that she already has, one thousand ways to find grace and soul-joy in the midst of every day life with all its hurts and ugliness as well as its moments of beauty and peace.

    The writing is dense, layered and poetic. This is not a book I can read in a few sittings. I read two or three pages, then put it down and contemplate Ann's words, taking time to process and discover the deepest meaning. This book took me deep and then deeper, into the heart and mind of a true follower of Christ. No mere "pursuit of happiness" here. On these pages, the reader follows the struggle to find Christ in moments of pain or disfigurement or bereavement.
    This book has enlarged me, opened me, filled me . . . and I can't stop talking about it.'

    1. Rita, I'm a big fan of Ann's work and that book in particular. Changed the way I approach my dialogue with God. I tried commenting on Alice's post the other day but it disappeared as it sometimes does. You've reminded me to pop back over.

      Thanks Rita for sharing Alice's comment & thoughts on "One Thousand Gifts".

  4. Great post, Ian. I'm not from a background where we observed Lented traditions. But I can see, as with advent, the blessing of deliberate sinking into 'heart preparation.' Thanks for the encouragement. I will have to ponder this some more.

    1. oops.... *Lenten traditions.

    2. Thanks Dotti for the encouragement. May you have a blessed Easter with your family.

  5. Hi Ian, thanks so much for you post. I too am starting my journey into discovering Lent and I loved Ann Voskamp's book, which was recommended to me a couple of years ago. I am going through her 'Trail to the Tree' this year. Before Christmas last year I observed advent for the first time. I have also been challenged recently, while I was doing a study on the Holy Spirit, about intentionally observing Pentecost. I never really took much notice of the day, it came and went. I'm excited to be taking part in these celebrations and the intentionality of seeking a deeper relationship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

    1. Love that you are intentionally seeking a deeper relationship with God. I worked through 'Trail to the Tree" last year and found it very useful in letting go so I could be more present with the Lord.

      Thanks for sharing.

  6. Ian, thanks for your challenging post. It can be too easy to cast aside traditions as out-dated rather than investigating their spiritual significance.

    1. So true, Narelle. I find there is such pressure on the Church to conform to modern ways so as to "attract" and stimulate an audience but I still find the Word has the most power to do both.

      I particularly miss singing some of the old hymns so find myself often searching for them on YouTube and singing along.

      Thanks for stopping by and wishing you and your family a wonderful Jesus-filled Easter.

      PS. As I write this comment, Fiona my wife, is sitting opposite me reading "Falling for the Farmer". She started it last night.