Pastor’s Article – March 2022 Tower Chimes
Do you have an established way of observing Lent? Traditionally, Christians have given up something—typically, something they enjoy—as a way of immersing themselves in the sacrificial nature of the season. What are you giving up for Lent? is a question that might be asked at a Bible study or between friends. Common answers include various food items (sugar, meat, etc.), forms of entertainment (watching TV, social media, etc.), and alcohol and carbonated beverages. So, what’s behind this traditional practice of sacrificing something we enjoy during Lent?
Before answering that, I’ll quickly recap the meaning and purpose of the Lenten season. Lent is a season of forty days, not including Sundays, which begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. It’s a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It’s a time of self-examination and reflection; a time to focus on one’s relationship with God and grow in discipleship. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing for his ministry. The bottom line? Lent is when Christians have focused attention specifically on Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross.
So, why do we give up things like sugar, entertainment, and the like? In short, to personally identify with the sufferings of Jesus. While foregoing sugar or TV doesn’t equate with being tortured and crucified, there is nevertheless a kind of suffering we experience when we say no to something we’ve always said yes to. The temptation to stop the self-denial can be very strong. Leaning into the experience of saying no to something we’re used to getting/doing is one way to walk beside Christ on our ‘journey to Jerusalem’ (see Luke 9:51).
What’s the purpose in trying to identify with Christ in this way? It comes down to spiritual growth. Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must give up you own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Denying self. That it, denying the desires of the flesh (or sin nature). While food is not evil or bad in and of itself, denying it to ourselves can be very challenging. And when we intentionally strive to walk the sacrificial way of Jesus, we’re forcing ourselves to rely on his grace. This helps us grow closer to God.
The temptation to stop the self-denial can be very strong. Leaning into the experience of saying no to something we’re used to getting/doing is one way to walk beside Christ on our ‘journey to Jerusalem.’
In recent years, many Christians have opted for a different approach to their Lenten discipline. Instead of giving up something beloved/enjoyable, they instead take up a spiritual discipline; they add to their walk of faith a practice intended to help them grow spiritually. For example, those who don’t regularly read the Bible might commit themselves to reading through the Gospels over the course of Lent. Or maybe be more intentional in their prayer or devotional life. Or volunteer at a local shelter or food kitchen. Or look for opportunities to give away money in ways they don’t normally do.
Is one way better than another? No. The ultimate purpose is the same, which is to be intentional in our spiritual growth. Both approaches are challenging in that they force us to make uncomfortable adjustments to our lifestyle. But remember, in the end it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus Christ. It’s not about what we do, it’s about what he did. May your Lent be a blessed one indeed as you intentionally do something to grow in your walk of faith.