Lent begins in two days. Many of you who read this blog observe Lent every year and have already decided how you’ll be observing it this year. Some of you reading this post don’t normally pursue any kind of spiritual discipline during Lent (it’s OK, I admit I’m not the best about doing that myself, so you’re in good company), or you have done in the past and have wondered why you might bother to continue doing so.
Lent is the forty days in the Church calendar leading up to Easter. Our reason for observing or celebrating comes from, as I understand it, two places in the Bible. The first is remembering how the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land. In the second, we remember how Jesus spent forty days on the mountain, fasting and being tempted at least three times by Satan. The idea for us, as modern Christians, is to remember those who sacrificed and to participate in sacrifice as a spiritual discipline.
Traditionally, we give up food, drink, or something else that we are willing to sacrifice for those six weeks. The first Lent I really observed, I gave up chocolate. I don’t remember what I’ve sacrificed every year, but the most memorable of Lents was my freshman year in college when I gave up all sweets and soda. The reason I remember this is because I had the mother of all caffeine withdrawal headaches for the first week of Lent.
That wasn’t terribly conducive to spiritual discipline.
What I’m going to say next is going to seem judgmental. I apologize for that, because it’s not meant to be that way. But why do we give things like chocolate, sodas, sweets, or anything else up for Lent? What is our ultimate purpose? Is it to give up something that doesn’t really mean much anyway, only to take it back on Easter? And if that’s all that we make of Lent, if what we sacrifice isn’t truly changing us spiritually or encouraging our walk with Christ, should we even go through the motions for those forty days?
I ask those questions because Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Following Jesus requires that we deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily, not just for the six weeks before Easter. How does giving up chocolate, or soda, or sweets, really make a difference in how we follow Christ? A lot of us give up something, but we do it just for the sake of saying we did it, and don’t use the time as a way to examine who we are and what we can become without those things.
Since this blog is about stewardship, I want to propose that during Lent this year, instead of giving something up for six weeks, let’s give it up for good. Or maybe, instead of giving something up, we start a new practice that we don’t quit after Easter.
Are you giving up food or drink? Then perhaps this is the time to give it up for good. Kick the chocolate or caffeine habit, not for six weeks, but for the rest of your life. Or instead of giving up coffee for good, maybe give up getting your coffee at Starbucks every day–use the money you would normally use for that triple shot to give to your church or your favorite charity.
Maybe now is the time to start taking better care of God’s creation. Why not begin the process of reducing your consumption (quit shopping for things you don’t need), reusing what you can (need a place to store dry beans or craft supplies? Reuse yogurt or butter containers instead of buying a new container), and recycling what can’t be reduced or reused.
Maybe this Lent is the time to start thinking seriously about the Sabbath and taking a day of rest as God commands. It’s doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but you do have to rest all day long.
Or perhaps now is the time to start giving more of yourself to the church. What are your spiritual gifts, and how can they be used in your faith community? I can guarantee that your church needs you to use your spiritual gifts somewhere, and no act of using those gifts is too small.
Most importantly, be thoughtful about what you’ll be doing to observe Lent. Listen to God and what He’s telling you to do. Allow Him to work in you and change you during this time.