This week we begin the season of Lent. For the next six weeks, the worship in many Christian churches will become more subdued as they follow Jesus on his long, arduous journey to the cross. While the joy of faith remains undiminished throughout the year, our rejoicing during Lent is muted and quiet.
Lent is a time of reflection. Lent is a time of repentance. Lent is a time to quietly watch and pray as we follow our Savior to his cross.
Traditionally, Christians often “give something up” for Lent. The centuries old tradition harks back to the ancient custom of fasting. To fast is to not eat food for a certain amount of time. Believers in both the Old and New Testaments fasted on different occasions as an expression of their sorrow over sin or simply to focus their minds and hearts on prayer and Bible Study.
The fasting during Lent soon took many forms. Some Christians simply gave up eating meat during Lent, a tradition still common among Christians today, especially on the Fridays of Lent. Soon people began giving up other things during Lent: alcohol, sex, hobbies and fun activities. Today people give up things like smoking and Dr. Pepper and playing their favorite game on their iPhone.
Some Christians today do the exact opposite. Instead of giving something up for Lent, they think it is better to simply give something for Lent – to do something. During Lent they volunteer for charity work. They go visit people in the nursing home. They mow the lawns of their elderly neighbors.
In a way, they are still giving something up for Lent. They are giving up their time.
Giving something up for Lent can be a wonderful way to focus your heart and mind on what Lent is all about. As we sacrifice, we are forced to think about Jesus’ sacrifice for us – what he gave up to save us from the hell we deserve. As we give things up, it declutters our lives so we can focus our attention on what is really important and meditate on God’s great love.
Fasting is a worthwhile spiritual exercise.
But be careful. If you decide to give something up, make sure it is something that is truly a sacrifice. I personally love fish. Giving up meat on Fridays to eat a fish fry is not really a sacrifice for me. It’s a treat.
Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do … put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting.”Matthew 6:16,17
In other words, don’t show off. In fact, I would encourage you not to tell anyone that you are giving something up for Lent, unless they ask. Make it a private matter between you and God.
And watch out for pride. The devil loves to stroke our egos, whispering in our ears what great Christians we are for giving something up for Lent. Remember the sacrifices we make during Lent or any other time of the year cannot and will not earn for you God’s love. Giving things up for God will not make him love you any more than he already does.
We give things up to help us remember and appreciate what our Savior gave up for us. We give things up to focus our hearts and minds on his great love which led him to die that we might live.
So, if you’ve never done it before, try giving something up this year. Use it as a way to turn your mind to your Savior’s great sacrifice for you. It all starts with finding something that would be somewhat difficult to give up for six weeks. Pray about it.
Then give it up for Lent.