For many years now, I have followed and loved the practice of giving up something for Lent, in order to more deeply pursue Jesus during those 40 days. While many people simply give up something for the season, I wholeheartedly believe that what one gives up should cost us in some way. I do not give up a comfort food, unless I am going to turn to Jesus in place of going to that certain food when I am anxious. Two years ago, I chose to get up earlier in the morning to better ground my day and emotions in the Bible before getting ready for work. As I was in school at the time, I knew this was going to cost me something dear and scarce—sleep. But I also recognized that with the season and situations I were in, I couldn’t afford to not start my very early mornings in the word.
Second, the time frame for the Lenten season is nearly perfect to break an unhealthy habit and/or cultivate a new one in its place. Finally, Lent is the perfect time to get more firmly planted in a spiritual discipline or rhythm, because you know that you are not alone. Thousands of Jesus-loving people are taking this season to go deeper in some aspect of their relationship with Jesus, lending a certain solidarity with people you don’t even know. Though most of them have no names or faces to me, I pray for them, as I know they are very much known to God and we are all struggling against the desires of our flesh in the hopes of seeing and loving more of Christ with the help of the Spirit.
Going Through the Motions
Some of us have no problem giving something up at the dawning of Ash Wednesday. We are so rigid and committed to what we set our minds on, that the thought of giving up and quitting is nonexistent. For myself, there is the danger that what I set my mind to will not reach my heart. Fasting comes “easy,” Lent isn’t all that hard, and quitting things for a set period may not even affect me. It just becomes something I do.
Commitment and devotion are good qualities, but not when they are at the sake of emotions and heart change. If my heart isn’t touched by the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ, then everything I am sacrificing is only coming from a place of legalism. Jesus doesn’t have my heart, when I am like that. And if the process of Lent doesn’t lead me closer to Jesus, then my actions are simply the whitewash residue on a tomb that houses death.
Oh to grace!
Legalism comes easy. Grace is hard. Legalism gives me artificial affirmation that I am somehow meeting at least some of the requirements. When everything around me is messy, broken, and emotional, legalism allows me to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and make it through the day. And these weeks before Lent give me the perfect opportunity to “redeem” myself before God.
Except it doesn’t. Because rule-keeping will never be enough. There will never be enough seasons of Lent for all the sacrifices to be sufficient. God has never wanted offerings. He has always been after our hearts.
And into this season, he offers us something far better than duty and sacrifice. He gives us grace.
Grace shatters our self-efforts, crushes legalism with the scandalous love of Christ, and binds up the wounds inflicted by our own legalistic yokes. Lent is for grace in the midst of structure. Grace is what goes all the way down, fills the holes, and overflows in our lives. It is in experiencing the grace of God that we are changed. The giving-up of something does not change us. The Jesus we push into during these days is what changes us. Legalistic rule-keeping never moved anyone to love Jesus more. But being with Jesus is what moves our hearts. From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace (John 1:16). He is the one full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We must lean into him for this grace of God to fall on us.
Whereas Lent calls us to sacrifice, grace is the gift God extends to us in our offerings. We hold out open hands to a Father who doesn’t give us stones in place of bread (Matt. 7:9-11). No, this Father gives us his Son. At the end of our fasting of something for Lent, we will not wish the sacrifice away. Rather, what we gave up will fade away in the light of what—who—we have more clearly seen during this time.
Taste and See that Jesus is Good
To those of you reading this, I am encouraging you to give up something for Lent. Search your heart and ask God to reveal to you what he may have you put aside in order to press into him in a deeper or new way during these forty days. Perhaps the following ideas and thoughts will help you as you pray and think through what you could give up for this season.
- Replace all or some social media with Bible reading and/or prayer
- Exchange TV or movie time for reading a book that will change you (Prayer, The Cost of Discipleship, The Imperfect Disciple, etc.)
- Spend your lunch break in prayer
- Join your church on Wednesday evenings, whether at church or in community groups
- Get up earlier every morning to spend time with the Lord before beginning the day
- Prayer walk a section of your city one day each week instead of going straight home from work
- Turn your weekly “alone time” at the coffee shop into a small gathering of believers who spend an hour in the Word and/or prayer over coffee
- Turn off the radio on the way to work to use this time to ask the Spirit to give you gospel moments at work and to help you see and walk into these moments
- Get back to your daily Bible reading plan
Simply, over the coming weeks, be in the presence of Jesus, so that you can taste and see that he is so, so good (Ps. 34:8). Go deep in prayer and the Word, so that at the end of these days, you will be able to say with the disciples, “Where else can I go? Jesus, you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). And may you be able to echo the words of Mary after she saw the resurrected Christ, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Only Jesus satisfies. Only Jesus changes us. Only Jesus shatters our lives and puts us back together in ways that look more like him. As these days lead us to the death of Christ on Good Friday, only the grace of God in the death of his Son is deep enough for all of our sins. Lent is for seeing and being with Jesus. And although Lent may cost us something, it is no bitter sacrifice to have spent more time with Jesus.