The question among many Christians for the next few weeks is “What are you giving up for Lent?”
Oh my! There are so many different answers. One category is material things: chocolate, soda, pizza, sex, ice cream, using plastic bottles, etc.
Another category includes things like not being critical of people, giving up negative thinking about oneself, feeling ashamed, getting rid of self-destructive behavior.
Still another approach I’ve heard is to volunteer at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, or some organization which is helping those in need.
And just the other day someone suggested that each day of Lent to pick one thing to get rid of that you no longer use, put it in a bag, then after Easter, donate the bag of stuff to thrift shop or some charitable organization.
All these activities are wonderful in and of themselves. But my big question is, why only do this in a short window of time before Easter?
I’ve heard all the reasons people say. It’s to repent and prepare our hearts for the Easter season or remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his triumph in the resurrection.
It’s a time of self-denial and prayer to be closer to God and become a better follower of Jesus.
For Biblical backup of Lent, Jesus’ words are usually quoted, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV)
This is all good. We should certainly aim for these things.
But I have a problem with Lent.
It doesn’t really go far enough. Self-denial is great. Giving up selfish desires and practices are wonderful for our spiritual growth and discipleship. But why focus on these things only in the 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter.
Jesus says in the verse quoted above to take up our cross daily. He did not say, just for 40 days each year. There was no such seasonal practice of self-denial and penitence in the Early Church for about 100 years.
Over time, Lent went from one or two days before Easter to the current 40.
Why only 40 days? Is self-indulgence acceptable the day after Easter?
If we really want to be followers of Jesus, we should be in a day-by-day mindset of self-denial and repentance all year long. We should be celebrating the resurrection each day of every year.
Jesus said to Martha of Bethany, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He didn’t say he was or will be the resurrection. This is still the case. Jesus Christ is the resurrection right now.
The only true way to follow Jesus is to observe Lent every single day, year after year.
What’s the point of giving something up and then, 40 days later, going right back to selfish or inappropriate behavior? If you’re going to stop doing something to follow Jesus better, why go back to it?
If Lent is an important time of year for you because it helps refocus your life on Jesus, that’s great. I’m glad you find it helpful.
But if you observe Lent just because it’s something you’re supposed to do and the ideas don’t take root way down deep in your soul, I hope you will examine your motives.
I invite you to participate in Lent every day, not just from now until Easter, but every day for the rest of your life. I encourage you to take each new day as an opportunity to leave behind the old man and put on the new man, as Paul says.
We focus so much on the crucifixion most of the year and especially in the weeks before Easter, but we should be celebrating the resurrection every day.
Jesus did not just pray, “Not my will but Thine be done,” in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion. It was his modus operandi every single day throughout his entire life.
And it must be ours.