One of the hardest decisions in our wedding planning was choosing the songs for the ceremony. We didn’t want to use traditional instrumental music but instead wanted to include hymns and worship songs that were meaningful to us both. The problem was we couldn’t narrow it down (and still ended up choosing five songs!).
One song that my husband wanted so badly for us to use but I refused was “Depth of Mercy.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like the song; it just seemed so depressing for a day that was to celebrate God’s love through marriage. The song begins:
Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear me the chief of sinners, spare?
Now incline me to repent, let me now my sins lament. Deeply my revolt deplore, weep, believe and sin no more.
Wrath, lament, deplore, weep…those aren’t typical words you hear at a wedding. I wanted songs about God’s love, beauty, and grace. A song about God’s wrath would be hard to hear when we’re all dressed up and acting our best. I wanted our guests to revel at God’s creation of marriage, not squirm at his righteous justice. Now I realize that the truth of those words could have reminded my husband and me at our wedding that we were two sinners being brought together by God’s deep love and mercy.
Lent begins in two days on Ash Wednesday, initiating forty days of fasting, prayer, and giving that leads up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation for Easter, similar to what Advent does at Christmas. But unlike Advent, Lent is a somber season, where we remind ourselves of our individual sinfulness apart from Christ, the depravity of mankind, and the injustice around the world.
While Lent has been a part of the Christian liturgical calendar since the early church, it’s most predominantly used in the Catholic church as a way to “pay penance” for sins. That’s not what I believe because I know that salvation is God’s free gift by grace through faith in Christ. More recently, Lent has also been picked up by evangelical Christians as an excuse to ditch Facebook, desserts, and TV shows—aimed at breaking bad habits or losing a few pounds. It’s about self-improvement not self-reflection. That’s not the right perspective either.
Advent is a season of waiting, remembering Christ’s first coming as a babe and longing for his second coming as a king. Lent is a season of sorrow, reminding us of the need for the cross and the hope of Easter morning. We cannot weep on Good Friday and rejoice on Resurrection Sunday unless we have a right awareness of our own sin and the sin of humanity. Lent prepares our hearts to truly celebrate the Easter season.
But just as I was uncomfortable to include a hymn about God’s wrath in my wedding, we’re often hesitant to include meditations on God’s wrath in our quiet time each day. Why would we focus on an attribute from which we have been freed? Why would we dampen the bright colors of Easter with the darkness of depravity?
This is my first Easter season to intentionally set aside moments in my personal time with God and in my family’s worship to observe Lent. Here are the few reasons I believe that this solemn practice is an important part of a Christian’s life.
Lent reminds us that we are not enough
We live in a culture that wants us to believe “you’re enough!” Lent reminds us that we have fallen short. American culture urges us to pick ourselves up “by our own bootstraps.” Lent tells us that we will trip over our own efforts every time. The world says that we need to look deeper inside ourselves to find truth. Lent prompts us to look beyond ourselves, because even our own hearts are deceitful.
The focus of our Lenten fasting, prayer, and giving is to point us to our deep need for Christ. Easter is merely a day for egg hunts and chocolate bunnies if we do not see why Christ’s death and resurrection is not only necessary for salvation but also for our everyday life.
Paul reminds us that it is in our weakness that we are made strong through Christ’s power, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Lent breaks into our self-sufficient rhythms of life in order to renew our dependence on the grace of God. Also, if you do choose to fast or “give up” something for Lent, then you are also expressing that thing is not a sufficient source of strength in your life. With the right perspective, a fast from food or entertainment is a reminder to yourself that your true source of comfort and sustenance is Christ himself.
Lent convicts our hearts of unholiness
While Lent reminds us of our sinfulness, it does not want to leave us there. Christ’s death and resurrection broke the power of sin over our lives, but we will have to fight the presence of sin every day until we reach glory. Lent leads us to first examine our hearts and then to recognize the sins we have let fester beneath the surface. Then we pray that God would help us hate our sin and, most importantly, repent from our sins.
In 1 John 2:1, John clearly outlines the purpose of his letter, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” He was urging the believers to grow in holiness while at the same time resting in the holiness of Christ. He later writes to them, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). The more we see and know God, the less sin we can tolerate in our life.
Lent helps us to set aside time for the uncomfortable but necessary task of beholding Christ so that we may become more like him. As we view Christ’s sacrifice from the perspective of our sin, our appetite for sin is decreased. We confess and repent our sin, not to gain eternal life, but because Christ’s death gained it for us.
Lent inspires us to praise God for his love
You may still be curious (probably not) what songs we ended up choosing for the wedding. One hymn we chose was my favorite “How Deep the Father’s Love.” But now I realize that we have to understand God’s “depth of mercy” before we can truly grasp “how deep the Father’s love for us.” God didn’t just make good people better; he made dead people alive!
When we as Christians come away from regarding our sin, we are not left hopeless. We are not condemned by our sin, because “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). Because of Christ’s life and sacrifice, Paul ends Romans 8 by reminding us that nothing, including our own sinfulness, can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
Instead of hopelessness, considering our sin leads us to thanksgiving. If I generously paid off one of my sister’s power bill and another sister’s mortgage, who would be more grateful? The second sister, because she was freed from a greater debt through my generosity. If I only think that God pardoned me of a few minor offenses, then I owe him very little. If I rightly grasp that I am the chief of sinners brought from death to life by God’s gracious sovereignty, then I rejoice every day to be living in his grace. When we understand the true depth of our sins, we can praise God even more for the depth of his love for us at the cross.
Whether or not you choose to observe the full forty days of Lent this year, I still want to encourage you to take a few days before Holy Week to prepare your heart. Turn to Psalm 51 in your Bible and meditate on the mercy and justice of God, the sinfulness of your own heart, and your desperate need for him to cleanse you.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2)
Come to him broken by your sin on Good Friday, then you can shout with true joy on Resurrection Sunday, “Christ is risen! He’s risen indeed!”
There are many great Lent studies and devotionals available, but this year, I am using Asheritah Ciuciu’s Uncovering the Love of Jesus: A Lent Devotional. Each of the forty days includes a Scripture passage, short devotional, and prayer prompt. She also includes family Lent activities for “Feast Days” (which are on Sundays during the Lent season).