(The Best Thing You Can) Give Up for Lent

 

If you’re reading this, it means you didn’t give up social media for Lent. How untrendy of you! 😉

The only Christian seasons/holidays I had participated in growing up were Easter and Christmas. Advent was a thing, but I only recognized it as the few Sundays before Christmas when we would light candles on a wreath during the service. Since moving to Dallas, and working at churches that celebrate more of the liturgical calendar, I looked more into the idea of participating in Lent by giving something up. I did so for three years – Chipotle for two years, and soda the following year. The first two years spawned two blog posts, which you can read here and here. While the fasting experiences were valuable in some ways, there was an overall sense of confusion I had every post-Easter Monday.

That’s it? I’m done fasting…done dedicating my time and actions to God? How am I different because of it? 

I’m not sure if I was looking for some abstract, spiritual sense of accomplishment or growth. Whatever I was looking for or hoping to feel after Lent concluded, I didn’t find it. Life continued as normal. Last year, I didn’t give anything up for Lent. I spent those weeks praying and thinking about how to approach the season of anticipation toward the most important events ever to occur. Last night, during our Ash Wednesday service, a light bulb went finally went on. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that God flicked me on the side of the head, followed by my self-conscious response of “Duh, Jeff.”

It can be summed up with this great statement from my pastor’s devotional. “Many of us think ‘I’ll give up this or give up that for Lent. Maybe we should just stop after saying, ‘I’ll give up.’”

At the end of Matthew 16, Jesus tells the disciples that anyone who follows Him would need to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This was undoubtedly shocking for the disciples to hear. People sentenced to death by crucifixion were the only people who carried their own crosses. Jesus wasn’t just saying, “Try to not be selfish all the time.” He was asking the disciples to die to themselves. Jesus went on to say that one who loses his life for the sake of Christ would find it. I don’t know about you, but I’m sensing a theme here.

The cross of ashes someone receives on his or her forehead is meant as a reminder that we truly have nothing of value to give. Our sin and brokenness are what separated us from God in the fist place. However, we receive the ashes with hope, knowing that the One who died for us on a cross paid the price for that sin, and His resurrection means new life. We gave nothing to receive everything.

If you’re wondering what to give up for Lent, or if you should give anything up at all, the best thing you can give up is yourself. I’m fairly confident that followers of Christ don’t have a great daily track record of denying themselves and following in the mind-blowing, counter-cultural example Jesus set for us. I am certainly at the top of that list. Why should we try to bust a wheelie when we still struggle without training wheels?

Deny yourself. Give up your self-righteous efforts to earn favor or status with God and others. Feed the poor. Give to the needy. Love your enemies. Pray for those who would love nothing more than to see you fail. Be merciful until it hurts.

Do all this while realizing that we can do nothing good apart from the righteousness bestowed to us by grace through faith in the Savior we all desperately need. Remembering and living out that I’m alive in Him each day is hard enough, and humility is a good reminder of what Christ endured in the days leading up to His death.

I’m giving up for Lent. Will you join me?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”                      2 Corinthians 5:17, 21 (ESV)

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