Should Christians give up something for Lent?
You ask different people this question and the answers will range from a serious “Of course” to a scoffing “Haha, no!” to a confused “Huh??”
And depending on what brand of Christianity you come from, you might not even be able to fathom the difference of responses.
You might hold Lent as a valued sacred tradition and can’t believe others don’t.
Or you might scoff at Lent as simply a man-made tradition, not based in the Bible and therefore easily ignored.
Or maybe you’re not quite sure what Lent even is, in which case you might want to read this description here.
But I think all of us would benefit from taking a look at the Bible & what exactly it has to say about prayer & fasting for Lent. So let’s dive in.
What does the Bible say about giving up something for Lent?
- It doesn’t. Nowhere in Scripture can you find a command or even a clear reference to fasting or giving up certain habits in preparation for Easter. It’s just not there. And avoiding meat on Fridays…..zilch. zero. nothing.
- Scripture does encourage fasting. The Bible is full of examples of fasting and prayer, and as you read passages like Matt 9:15 and Matt 6:16-18, you can easily conclude that fasting should be an important habit in our lives. Moreover, the Bible also talks about different kinds of fasts where you give up something besides just food. For example, I Cor. 7:5 mentions giving up sex for a time to give yourself to prayer & fasting.
- God values remembrance. Scripture is full of commands to remember and traditions that help us do so. From the feasts the Jews held in the Old Testament to the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New, God places great emphasis on remembering what He has done and often ties this remembrance to a holiday to help us not to forget.
So at this point, we can see that Lent is not commanded. That means if you choose not to observe Lent you are good to go. No commands broken. No sin committed.
But I also think you just might be missing an opportunity to pause and remember. To contemplate what God has done & prepare your heart for Easter in a way that is meaningful.
In the church I grew up in, Lent was joked off as simply a man-made tradition with no Biblical basis. But as I’ve grown older and met others who do observe Lent, I’m starting to see its value. We spend a whole month celebrating Christmas, but so often I’ve felt that Easter doesn’t get the emphasis it deserves.
But that’s where Lent can come in. To be honest, I’ve never observed Lent before, but I’m excited to see the difference it makes this coming Easter.
But for those of us who ARE choosing to observe Lent, we need to be really careful. Careful to focus on what Lent should be and not what it’s actually become for many.
We should NOT observe Lent…
- Out of obligation or guilt. If you observe Lent because you feel like you have to, stop. Just don’t do it. It’s not commanded, and you’re not currying any special favor from God for doing so. God cares most about our heart, and when we do something for the wrong reasons, it does us no good and certainly brings God no pleasure.
- To feel spiritual. Don’t observe Lent because it makes you feel like you’re a spiritual person or because it strokes your own spiritual ego. Pride is the opposite of what God wants and fasting is supposed to be all about humility.
- To gain God’s favor. For many people, Lent is all about repentance and self-sacrifice to gain God’s favor. But as we contemplate Easter, we realize He did all the work for us. God is not impressed by our good works & fledgling efforts to gain His favor. What God truly desires is a broken and contrite heart, fully surrendered to His will (Psalm 51:17). Lent can be a great help in getting our heart to that point, but not if our goal is actually focused on ourselves (gaining His favor) instead of focused on Him.
- By telling everyone what we’re giving up. Facebook this week will be filled with people declaring to the world what they’re giving up for Lent. But don’t join the crowd. Matthew 6:16-18 clearly states that when we fast, we’re supposed to do it without anyone else knowing it. It should just be between us and God so that our focus is on Him and not on what others think of us.
If we do observe Lent, we should do it….
- Because we desire to deepen our relationship with God. This is the only valid and worthy reason for observing Lent. Our goal should be to know God more and to meditate on His goodness. To root out sin in our lives and become closer to Him as a result. When we focus on that for 40 days, God can do amazing things in our lives.
- With joy, thanksgiving, and repentance. To deepen our relationship with God and fully appreciate Easter, we need to first repent and ask God to root out any sin in our lives. When we truly repent, joy and thanksgiving flood in and lead to abundant praise and worship.
- With or without a fast. Since no Lenten fast is commanded, you could choose to observe Lent simply with prayer, praise, or a renewed focus on Him. But there is something about a fast that helps us get the focus off of ourselves and onto Him. Giving up something, saying no to our flesh and our own desires, is powerful when we do it for the right reasons. It is a daily (sometimes constant) reminder of God and what He has done, of our own inadequacies and our need for Him. And Scripture is clear that fasting helps us connect with God in a deeper way and will be rewarded (Matt. 6:18).
It could be an actual fast from food. Or you could fast from something else. Try to think of something that will help you focus on Him.
Whether you choose to give something up or not, I encourage you to spend time in prayer & thanksgiving as we approach the joyous celebration of His resurrection.
Do you observe Lent? What helps you keep the focus on Him and not on yourself?