The Church season of Lent is just around the corner. Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, is March 9. Lord of Life will host a special worship service on that night at 7pm. On that night we practice the imposition of ashes when the sign of the cross is made upon the forehead of the worshippers in ashes. The significance of this action goes back to the Old Testament when God’s people would put on sackcloth and ashes when they were confronted with the significance of their sins. It was a symbolic act of repentance and sorrow. On this night we also come humbly before our Lord asking for forgiveness for our sins and that he would change our hearts.
Lent is a tradition that has been observed from the earliest times of the church. It is a season of reflection and repentance. It is a time to contemplate the tremendous sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. Many churches will avoid using the word Hallelujah during this time, until the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Music in general tends to be more reflective and less celebratory. The color purple is often used which is a color of royalty. Jesus comes as our king, but he does not wear a crown of gold, rather a crown of thorns.
It is also a practice of many Christians to give something up during Lent. This practice is derived from the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting is not a discipline that is often practiced in our American culture. The thought of depriving ourselves of anything is not something that many find attractive. The message we hear is that you can have it all. You deserve it. Don’t miss out. Don’t settle for anything less than the best.
However, if truth be told, fasting is not as much about depriving ourselves of anything as much as it is about discovering true riches. It is making a choice to set aside earthly treasure for heavenly treasure. Fasting is not about giving up food for the sake of giving up food, but that you might concentrate more on feasting upon God’s daily bread, the Word of God.
We must guard against making fasting to be a self-serving and gratifying practice. It is not about showing myself or others how spiritual I am. Jesus warns against this in the Sermon on the Mount. The main purpose is not that I better understand or appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus. Giving up chocolate or television for 40 days is not going to help us to begin to come even close to grasping the cost he paid.
So why should I fast then?
To remove any distraction that might get in the way of my relationship with Jesus. Jesus says, “if your hand causes you to sin, then cut it off.” Of course we know that Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point here, but the point is well received. What in your life is interfering with your intimacy with God? Is there anything that is potentially becoming your God and that you rely upon and trust more than him. Then you need to purge it from your life. By removing the distractions in your life, you are then able to hear him better.
To cultivate generosity. The more you trust and rely upon him over and above the things of this world, the more room you will have for generosity. The reason we are not a more generous people is that we have convinced ourselves that we need our food, our money, and our time. We are convinced we “need” these things and cannot do without them. The tighter we hold on to them the harder it is for us to let go. Fasting works to challenge us not hold on too tightly to the things of this world. It challenges us to let them go, and hold tightly on the one from whom all those blessings flow.
Personally, during the season of Lent, it is my plan to fast on Wednesdays. I plan on taking the extra time during lunch to use it for prayer and study of the Bible. I can also take the money that I would have spent on lunch and contribute that to the work of God’s kingdom. If you also plan to give something up during Lent, I would encourage you to also consider how you can use that effort to better hear from God and to advance his kingdom. It’s not really about what you give up, but what you give away.