Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance. But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like. “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.
Going through the motions of Lent without turning to God and putting our sins to death is hypocrisy, and few things rile our God so much as hypocrisy. “Rend your hearts and not your garments,” Joel says.
So: During this season, don’t just give up soft drinks; mount a concerted campaign against impatience. Don’t just put aside your favorite TV show; subdue your anger. Don’t just fast; kill your self-centeredness.
This doesn’t make Lent a season for gloominess and defeat. On the contrary, during this season we celebrate the victorious suffering and death of Jesus, and we should enter the season trusting in the Spirit of Jesus, who subdues our flesh and molds us to the image of Christ.
Lent is a season for joy also because it is a motif in a larger composition. The rhythm of the church year follows the rhythm of the Lord’s day service. Each week, we pass through a small “Lenten” moment in our liturgy, as we kneel for confession. But we don’t kneel through the whole service, and in the same way we don’t observe the fast forever.
Jesus tells us to fast with washed faces and anointed heads, that is, to fast as if prepared for a feast. We fast properly when we fast not only in humility but in hope; we keep the fast when we fall before God full of repentance but also full of confidence that our Great King will raise us up.