We are fast approaching the season of Lent and it will be here before you know. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which is March 5. We will be hosting Ash Wednesday Worship at 7pm at Good Shepherd and we would love to have you join us. We are working on putting together an unique interactive experience for all participants.
It is a tradition during the season of Lent for many people to “give something up.” You may very likely practice this tradition yourself. Some examples of the things people give up include chocolate, alcohol, smoking, television, and Facebook. There are lots of different reasons people have for giving something up for Lent. As with many practices there are some good reasons to do it and then there are some not-so-good of reasons to do it. Here are some of the not-so-good reasons:
1. Because it’s tradition
There are many good traditions in the church. Most every tradition is begun for a good reason. But there often comes a time when we lose the connection with the purpose of the tradition and we continue the tradition for the sake of the tradition. If you are not sure what the purpose of the tradition is, then it may be time to stop the tradition or at the least go back and re-examine the origins.
2. It helps me relate to the suffering of Jesus
Many believe that making a sacrifice will help them better relate to the sufferings of Jesus. But if you think this through, does giving up Facebook for Lent even begin to come close to helping you relate to the suffering Jesus went through? We are totally missing the point. Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice. His suffering was brutal. The idea of giving up 1st world luxuries to help us relate to the suffering he endured is laughable at best and mockery at worst.
3. To help me feel better about myself
For some giving up something for Lent is a way to kick a bad habit. Lent serves as a catalyst for living a healthier and more balanced life. It might serve to help you eat better or make better use of your time. All that is commendable and God wants us to be good stewards of our lives. But this still falls short of the fuller Lenten experience.
So what is the point then? Why would I give something up for Lent?
The whole idea behind giving something up is called FASTING. Fasting is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, Bible reading, and worship. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “when you fast …” He didn’t say, “if you fast …” There was an expectation his followers would fast. But it is an often overlooked discipline in the church. And because we don’t often teach about it, there is great misunderstanding about it.
So here are some reasons why we do fast or “give something up for Lent”:
1. More of God
While the idea of fasting involves taking something away, it is ultimately about more of God. Fasting in its purest form involves foregoing food for a certain period of time. This will lead to a hunger in our stomach which has an ultimate purpose of connecting us with our hunger for God. The time you might have spent preparing a meal and eating the meal can now be spent feasting on God’s Word. In other words, spend the time you would have spent eating by reading the Bible and praying. Jesus says, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We realize our food and everything else we have comes from God. If God did not provide it, we would not have it (see John 6:68–69). We eliminate that which we think we need for that which we truly need.
2. Removing barriers
Another important aspect of fasting is cutting out that which is hindering our relationship with God. There is nothing more important in this world than our relationship with him. Yet, we allow so many other things to get in the way. In last Sunday’s message we heard Jesus say, “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Matthew 5:29–30). The principle applies here is that we eliminate that which separates us from God. There are many things in life we think we cannot do without, but Jesus says only one thing is needful (Matthew 10:41–42).
Finally, fasting has a way of centering us and reminding us what is most important. We have a lot of competing priorities in life. We don’t fast for God’s sake. It is a discipline given to us for our benefit. Fasting points us to what is most important. It helps us to keep the first things the first things. This is why we see the early church enter a time of fasting prior to making a big decisions (see Acts 13:2–3; 14:23). Fasting helps us better discern God’s priorities for life and ministry.
So how about you? What are some of the reasons you fast or “give something up” during Lent? Make sure to share in the comments below.
Next week I will be sharing some ideas of things to give up for Lent. Hint, hint: They may not be what you think!