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Should You Give Something Up for Lent?

 
Carl Laferton | February 9th 2021

One of the few remaining links between Christianity and the culture is the idea of “giving something up for Lent”. It will be interesting to see if many people participate in this tradition during 2021, when it seems like most of us are giving up plenty already. But even if the sacrifices of this year haven’t already dissuaded you from going without, here are two good reasons not to join in this practice (and an idea for doing something different instead). 

1. Denial Doesn’t Redirect Sin

Paul says that the world loves to impose “Do not…” rules (Colossians 2 v 20-21)—which is strange, since it’s usually Christianity that is accused of doing just that. But it’s true—everyone loves to decide some rules, keep to them, and then feel good about themselves and superior to those who aren’t as “good” as them. But “such regulations [that] have an appearance of wisdom … lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (v 23).

We do not defeat wrong desires by denying them, so much as by redirecting them. So if we struggle, for instance, with eating too much chocolate, the solution will never be to give chocolate up, but to work out why we desire the chocolate, and then seek to satisfy that desire in worshipping Christ, not chocolate. It’s pointless to give something up without replacing it with something greater.

"So during this strangest of springs, how about taking something up—something, anything, that turns your thoughts to Christ"

2. Sacrifice Can Be Hypocritical

If I give something up for Lent because others do—so that I have an answer to the “What are you giving up for Lent?” question—then I am doing it to be seen to be doing it. It makes me an actor—just pretending to be something I’m not, so that I fit into the scene around me.

The Greek word for “actor” is the root of our word “hypocrite”. And Jesus was pretty firm about it: “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full”—right now, in the present, from those who are (mildly) impressed with their ability to fast (Matthew 6 v 16).

Jesus says that, if and when we fast or give something up, we should make every effort to ensure others don’t notice—because the only eyes whose view we should care about belong to our heavenly Father (v 17-18). Maybe you give stuff up secretly all the time (or for Lent), and no one knows… but I know that in the past my Lent self-denial has been done for the eyes of others, in plain sight, rather than hidden, for the eyes of God alone.

An Idea for Taking Something Up Instead

Instead of giving something up specifically for lent, consider taking something up that redirects you from your own efforts to the point of the Easter season: Christ.

With everything going on in the world, you’ve probably given up some time with friends, travel, social opportunities, or other activities. What are you replacing those with? Possibly, more time with those you live with. More time with your spouse or kids or housemates. More time going for walks. Or equally possibly, more time at your (home) desk or in front of the TV.

Soon enough (hopefully) life will not be about lockdowns, and our time will be more squeezed again. So during this strangest of springs, how about  taking something up—something, anything, that turns your thoughts to Christ. Try a family devotional (leading family devotions isn’t as intimidating as it might sound.) Listen to audiobooks or podcasts that reflect on our Savior. Read books that get you into God’s Word. Arrange a once-a-week prayer zoom call with a friend. 

This year, this Lent, in this pandemic, you might, very quietly, and making every effort not to desire to be seen, take something up. You could, very privately, say to your Lord: I know that you are my greatest need and the fulfiller of all my yearnings. But I find it hard to remember that, feel that, or live like that. This Lent, I’m taking up____________. Lord, I want to focus on you, my greatest thing. Lord, you know that this has felt like a year of giving things up, not of starting new things, but I want to remind myself that you are my only ultimate thing and I want to use this  time to get closer to you. Enable me to reach Easter loving you more. Amen.

Browse our selection of recommended resources for lent here. 

Carl Laferton

Carl Laferton is EVP Publishing/Editorial Director at TGBC. He is the bestselling author of the kids' books The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross and The God Contest, and also serves as series editor of the God's Word For You series. Before joining TGBC, he worked as a journalist, a teacher, and pastored a congregation in Hull. Carl is married to Lizzie and they have two children, Benjamin and Abigail. He studied history at Oxford University.

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