Lent has become something of a fad recently, invoked for themes as disparate as self-improvement projects and “shared lament.” So you and I must take care to set our focus and expectations squarely on repentance and reconciliation with God through Christ, by the Spirit. Fortunately, the Holy Scriptures show the way.
Jesus gives us the theme of Lent in Mark 1:15: “repent and believe the gospel.” Every deprivation and discipline we go through is for this purpose. There is an explicit connection between the 40 days of lent and the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, and we can likewise participate in Jesus’ deprivations. The important thing about “wilderness experiences”—oft invoked, rarely understood—is to rid ourselves of distraction and pleasures so that we can subsist on God alone such that one overcomes temptation.
Reading about Jesus’ resistance to sin when under the worst temptation, rightly leads us to feel ashamed of our own performance under much less serious conditions. But this should turn believers to repentance instead of despair, because the same Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness and sustained him also drives us to repentance and sustains us through His stings. Christ himself accompanies us through our temptations, strengthening us by the Spirit so that we can emerge from the desert of this world refreshed.