The Gift of Lent
by Scott Lowe
Lent is funny. The season of Lent often feels like the red-headed stepchild of the church calendar. Nobody counts down to Lent, as we do with Christmas, saying, “There are only 2 weeks to Christmas.” Or, “We better get those Lent gifts for the kids on Amazon.” There are no Lenten dinner parties or company Lent bonuses. Nope. None of that.
Lent is a season of fasting, and fasting is not the most desirable activity. Delayed gratification is not a popular notion in our culture. We see this in how we handle money and debt. We see this in our sexualized culture. And this is true of our Christian life. One particular author noted in his study that he could not find a single book on fasting from 1861-1954. That is nearly one hundred years. More has been written about fasting recently, but the list is not long. I believe, much like the subject of money, it’s a discipline or habit we reject because it reveals the things that control us.
Well, each year I try my hand at giving up something for Lent. I have fasted television, sugar, beer, and other things over the years. I will never forget giving up television. A few days in, it hit me…“What was I thinking? March Madness?!” I remember even trying to make concessions. “I’ll make it up for catching that game.” Ha. Funny. And to be honest, Lent became my own red-headed stepchild.
How can Lent be a joy and a gift? First, we have to address our mindset. Lent is not a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. And it is not simply finding something to give up. Rather, it is more about what we “take up.” It is the joy and gift of “taking up” Christ. Richard Foster said, “Fasting is feasting… Fasting reminds us that we are sustained ‘by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4).” Lent is about centering our hearts on the ONE who sustains us. The things that we have, eat, or consume often serve to cover up the real struggle and need within us, and many times keep us from the hope that comes in Christ. Fasting helps brings this to the surface.
Second, we must know that fasting is not about making God like or love us. Any habit or discipline can easily become legalism. And that legalism is crushing because it is filled with guilt and shame. The power of practicing our faith is found in Jesus from start to finish. In Philippians 2, we are told that Jesus gave up heaven to go to the cross for our sin so that we might be rescued and forgiven. So, as we follow Christ Jesus as our example, we must remember as Scott Sauls said in a recent post, “More than coming to be our example, Jesus came to be our rescue. Without his rescue, his example will only crush us. But with his rescue, his example will inspire us.” Christ is our joy and our gift! May this season of Lent be filled with joy in our fasting as we are inspired to “take up” the beautiful sustaining grace God offers us.