Exploring Lent in the Bible

5 min read

Lent is a historic, liturgical tradition inspired by the life of Jesus. While you won’t find Lent in the Bible as a command or any detailed instruction to fast around the time of Easter, a rich practice of observing Lent has developed in Christianity. 

Lent in the Bible: what the Scriptures say

Most Christians understand the inspiration behind the practice of Lent to be the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry. Luke 4: 1-2

40 is an important number through Scripture, lending more significance to the 40 day period of Lent. 40 is the number of days it rained in the flood and the number of years the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness. 

Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. Genesis 7:4 

The practice of fasting 

While you won’t find any specific mention of Lent in the Bible, you can find numerous examples of fasting throughout the Old and New Testaments. Fasting is a practice observed by a wide range of different Christian denominations. There are many nuances and differences but at its root, fasting is steeped in biblical wisdom and emulates what we see many characters in the Bible do. 

We know that Jesus and John the Baptist fasted and Daniel, too, while he was held captive in Babylon.

For the best explanation of why we fast as Christians, we look to Jesus explaining it to John the Baptist’s disciples:

“Then John’s disciples came and asked Him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered. “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” Matthew 9:14-15

In short, Jesus explains that while He is with His disciples, physically, they have no need to fast. But, when His physical presence is no longer with them, they will need to fast. Jesus teaches that fasting is a physical manifestation and acknowledgement of a longing and need for Jesus in the flesh. How incredibly powerful is that? 

Fasting is feeling homesick for God

Author John Piper says this of fasting: “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”

When you understand fasting in its biblical context, that is, an expression of longing for a time when we are physically one with God, it changes the emphasis on why we fast. 

Fasting around the time of Easter is a way of expressing this ‘homesickness’ for God.

The benefits of practicing Lent

Fasting is recognised as a healthy thing to do by many in the secular health and wellness industries. You might have heard a colleague talking about their intermittent fasting or even tried the famous 5:2 diet yourself. There’s plentiful evidence throughout nature that the feast and famine rhythm that the seasons provide naturally is beneficial for the health of livestock too. 

But, when it comes to practicing fasting as a Christian, its benefits run deeper than just physical health. 

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that shifts our focus from the current, material world, to that of the eternal. In essence, practicing Lent can help shift our perspective to that of heaven. By denying the temporal, we actively empower the spiritual.

Inspiring quotes about Lent

While we don’t find any quotes about Lent in the Bible, there are many inspiring quotes from heroes of the faith to explore.

“Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves… What is it that stands between us and God? Between us and our brothers and sisters? Between us and life, the life of the Spirit? Whatever it is, let us relentlessly tear it out, without a moment’s hesitation.” Catherine Doherty

“Lenten fasts make me feel better, stronger, and more active than ever.” Catherine of Genoa

“Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian Feast.” Father Thomas Merton

“Lent comes providentially to awaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” Pope Francis

“You could say that prayer without fasting is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back, and that fasting without prayer is, well, dieting.” Matt Fradd

“It is not just about giving up our favorite food but it’s about going further and giving up things like hatred and unforgiveness. You need to clean your heart and prepare yourself for purity.” Amanda Jobs

“Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food.” Dallas Willard

A simple Lent prayer

“Jesus, during these 40 days I ask You to draw near to me. I invite You to come and change my heart, to reorder my priorities and help me see with Your eyes. Help me to love like You do, God.” 

Thinking about giving something up for Lent?

If you’d like to give Lent a try this year but you’re not sure what to give up or how to fast, here are some ideas to get you started. Remember, you can get into the spirit of Lent without committing to a full fast for 40 days.

  1. Don’t buy anything you don’t need 
  2. Give up social media 
  3. Limit your drinks to just water 
  4. Give up eating out and ordering takeaways
  5. Pray a blessing on a different friend or neighbour every day 
  6. Give up watching TV after dinner 
  7. Replace part of your commute with a walk or cycle 
  8. Take up reading a daily devotional on Glorify every morning 
  9. Send an encouraging message to one of your contacts every day 
  10. Don’t voice any self-criticism or self-doubt 
  11. Start a new book and commit to finishing it before Easter weekend
  12. Cook something new every day 
  13. Sketch something quick every day 
  14. Choose one meal a day to fast 
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