The season of Lent appears after the Council of Nicea in the 4th century. Sound familiar? The creed we recite in church or sing in songs like Hillsong’s This I Believe takes its name from the first Council of Nicea.
Before the 4th century, there had been a time of fasting before Easter, designed as a period of instruction for all the people who wanted to convert to Christianity and be baptised at Easter baptisms.
Some say it was only 40 hours of fasting, but at the Council of Nicea, it was structured into a 40 day period of time now known as Lent. Why? Perhaps to encourage corporate fasting and discipleship.
Although Lent has a history dating back to the Council of Nicea, Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent) was originally a pagan festival - still celebrated, and known as Mardi Gras.
When we talk about 40 days of fasting in the Bible, we might immediately think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
But all the way through the Bible, 40 is a significant number.
There are 40 days and 40 nights of rain after Noah goes into the ark.
Moses is up Mount Sinai with the Living God for 40 days.
The children of Israel spend 40 years wandering in the desert after their faithlessness.
Elijah spends 40 days and 40 nights travelling to Mount Horeb.
In Jonah’s prophecy, the Lord God gives 40 days of grace to the city of Ninevah.
It’s a number that is to do with testing and trial. The LORD God said in Deuteronomy that He led the Church through the wilderness to test them and see what was in their hearts - to see whether they genuinely trusted Him, or whether they had their hearts and minds fixed on what this passing age has to offer.
Lent isn’t a test or a trial. It isn’t a time for you to prepare for Easter. It isn’t a chance to do a good spiritual spring clean so you’re ready for Jesus.
At Easter, Jesus Himself changes us. He does everything we need. Nothing we do in Lent will ever make us ready, because without Him we are dead in sin. Only Jesus puts to death the old humanity and creates a new humanity when He walks out of the grave. Nothing we do in Lent will ever accomplish that. Only He can.
But we can anticipate Him. We can hunger for Him. We can be filled with hope for resurrection life, when we will spend eternity with Him. We can be filled with thanksgiving for Him. We can pray for His kingdom to come, for Him to be known.
Cath at Hope and Ginger has created this brilliant product, designed to be used for prayer and thanksgiving through the season of Lent (beginning on March 6th in 2019).
The Lent Prayer Tree comes with an A4 print, a set of stickers, and a prayer journal. Each day has a daily prompt, a daily verse, space to journal your prayers, and a sticker to add to the tree.
It’s designed to help you focus on Jesus and grow closer to Him.
The grey tree is a reminder that without the Lord Jesus, we are dead and lifeless. But as we go through Lent, adding colourful leaves, we are reminded of the life and hope that He alone brings.
As the tree transforms, we pray that people, communities, towns, cities, countries, would be transformed by encountering Jesus - by learning of what He did for them at Easter, and trusting in Him.
There are amazing prompts in the prayer journal that you might never think of in your own prayer life - someone you haven’t seen for over a year, someone you find challenging, someone who has just been promoted, and it’s a wonderful and creative way to encourage your children to pray.
So while we don’t need to feel obliged to mark Lent in any way, for Christians who decide to use this season to intentionally grow closer to Jesus, the Lent Prayer Tree is a wonderful way to do it.