Should I Give Something Up for Lent?

Lenten Series:
    1. What is Lent?
    2. Should Christians Celebrate Lent?
    3. Should I Give Something Up for Lent?
    4. What is Ash Wednesday?
    5. What is Maundy Thursday?
    6. What is Good Friday?
    7. What is Easter?

Many people observe the tradition of “giving up something” for Lent. Is this something that we should practice as Christians, and if so how should we go about it? I must confess that this is not something that we practice in our own home. However, I believe it can be a good thing when done with the proper attitude and a right understanding of the Scriptures.

What is the right attitude in giving up something for Lent? First of all, we should do so in a spirit of love and humility before Christ. It is not a religious requirement, but rather, like fasting, it is something that we do voluntarily in response to God. Also, we should not think that this is a way to gain acceptance before God. Scripture is clear that we are accepted before God by faith in Jesus Christ alone, without any added works of our own. (Romans 4:5)

So what should you give up for Lent? It has been said that the only thing some people give up for Lent are their New Year’s resolutions! If you do decide to give something up for Lent, here are a few guidelines.

  1. Don’t make it something light or frivolous, something you would never miss anyway. It is an offering to the Lord, and you should consider it sacred. It is a recognition of the price Jesus paid for you. Don’t make a mockery of it. On the other hand:
  2. Don’t make it something so heavy or burdensome that you cannot follow through on it (food, water, air, etc.). The Bible encourages us to consider our vows carefully before making them. It is better not to vow at all than to make a vow and break it. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5) Some of us would do better to apportion our sacrifice throughout the Lenten period rather than try to make it through the whole season. You might find some personal fast days between you and the Lord scattered throughout the Lenten season to be very meaningful in your spiritual life.
  3. Don’t give up something sinful for Lent. It’s not that you shouldn’t give up sin, but repentance is not seasonal. Sin must be rejected daily, all the time, not just given up for a season. Lenten offerings, like fasting, should be the temporary yielding of something good out of love for God.
  4. Don’t give up something thinking that somehow God will view you as more righteous or acceptable in his sight because of your sacrifice. If you are a believer, you can never be more accepted by God than you already are in Jesus Christ. Always remember, it is Christ’s sacrifice that makes you righteous in God’s eyes, not yours. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22) God wants your heartfelt obedience far more than any sacrifice you may make for him. (Mark 12:32-33)

 
In the long run, perhaps we should think more along the lines of giving things up for the Lord rather than for Lent. What do you think?

Related post: Giving Up Church for Lent

6 Comments

  1. John W says:

    Another observation that I would add is that in giving something up, one should retain focus on the reason for giving it up and not the number of days until that thing can be had again.

    I remember someone who gave up the same thing every year and went through the same routine every year: the counted down the days until they could have that thing again. I always “felt bad” for that person because in their outward actions they appeared to have missed the point.

    As for giving things up for the Lord, that is one of the purposes of giving things up during Lent. Every time you want that thing, it should be a reminder of why you gave it up and hopefully cause a moment of reflection on the importance of needing to focus more on Faith in daily life.

  2. John W says:

    And my response submitted before I could edit or add.

    I think all that I would add is that like any “ritual” this is supposed to be an act of reminding ourselves of a facet of our Faith — kind of a “reset” moment (though the “moment” lasts for many days…). As for using this as a jumping point or reference point for giving things up permanently, I think the decisions that would go into each are different. As you pointed out, this is like a kind of fasting — so something “dear” should be given up without that thing being vital, critical, or impossible to do without. It should be something that would be a sufficient presence that not a day would go by that we wouldn’t be inspired into reflection — but what we could give up for 46 days might not be something reasonable to give up “forever”.

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    Great thoughts on Lent, John. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I tend to look at it both positive and negative.

    Positive: if someone gives up something for lent as a means to concentrate more on the Lord and His kingdom.

    Negative: if it’s some quazi-meritorious action akin to what Paul was battling in Galatians.

    If the NT doesn’t prescribe it, I take most ritual with a big grain of salt. It’s very easy for a beautiful and meaningful practice to become rote and empty. But maybe that’s just my sinful heart…

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    John – Good thoughts, thanks for sharing.

  6. John Lee says:

    Thanks for this it helped me get thinking “rightly” about Lent.

    The way I would think about it now is like my marriage to my wife. I don’t think of it as “giving up” dating all the other women in the world but as “getting closer” to the one I love. In doing the latter it necessitates the former – but the focus should always be on the latter or it becomes a duty or burden (or legalism!) rather than something motivated out of love.

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