Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “sprint.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin His ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is also a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Sundays in Lent aren’t counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.

Lent is traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes.

We see an example of this in Esther 4:1-3: “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.”

We also see an example of this in Daniel 9:3: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”

The reason we celebrate lent for forty days is a reflection of Jesus’ life and the desire to follow in His example. In the New Testament, the Lord fasted for 40 days and nights in preparation for the beginning of His public ministry. We model our 40 day season of Lent today o this holy tradition, established throughout Salvation history, the story of God’s relationship with humanity. Most importantly we observe these 40 days of Lent. In imitation of our Lord – the example for us all.

Individuals who celebrate Lent often think of it as a dreary season of self-denial and restraint. While denying yourself is an aspect of Lent, this notion doesn’t capture the full picture of what the season is really about. People who focus too closely on what they hate giving up miss something so important behind its meaning.

Similar to Jesus’ journey in the wilderness, we are confronted with temptation. But we know denying things that separate us from God allow us to begin again, and grow in our relationship with Him. During Lent, we are separating ourselves from our old life, and embracing new life through Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. We are also making resolutions and committing to change our lives in an effort to be more like Christ. In Matthew 16:24 we are told that Jesus said to His disciples “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This speaks to the part about self-denial. If we want to filly embrace Christ, we have to deny our whole self – this includes anything that comes in conflict with receiving Christ, and prepares us for a new beginning in Him.

We are also told in John 11:25-26 that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This again speaks to self-denial. As we let go of sin, and constantly work towards building our faith, we begin to receive the fullness of Christ, and enjoy the pleasures of new life in Him.

Another reason so many Christians struggle through Lent is because they don’t take the time to actively pray. Prayer is especially important during Lent because it helps us grow in our relationship with God, and also gives us strength to endure anything we will confront on our journey. Without prayer, we can’t develop a closer, more intimate relationship with God. We are told in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Prayer is an essential part of Lent, and also essential in helping us deal with any situation we’ll confront in life that may weaken us or separate us from new life in Him.

It’s important we keep our eyes focus on Jesus as we journey through Lent. The example of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness helps us prepare for our own Lenten journey. This period was a time of struggle, where the Devil attempted to play on Jesus’ human longings, like physical hunger.