The options are numerous when it comes to fasting for Lent. The first thing we should do is pray and ask the Lord to lay something on our hearts that perhaps we have allowed to become an idol, distraction, or roadblock to our faith. Here are some examples.
"I'm giving up chocolate."
"I'm giving up watching television during the week."
"I'm giving up soft drinks."
"I don't know what I am giving up yet; I already can't have anything but fish on Fridays."
I was utterly lost in the cafeteria conversation, my glazed fixed firmly on the black smudge in the middle of my friend's forehead. "Laura, what are you giving up for lent?" my friend's voice chirped beside me, bringing my thoughts back on topic.
"Well, um, I don't think anything. I don't even know what Lent is, but I think you need to grab a wipe; you have some black stuff on your forehead," I awkwardly sputtered.
Growing up Southern Baptist, with parents, family, and most of my friends apart of my church, I was pretty naive to other denomination's religious views and practices. Upon entering high school, my friend group broadened, and thus my exposure to different beliefs. The table talk quickly transitioned to the latest boy band's hit single, and the conversation about what we were giving up for lent was abandoned.
But, later that day, I went home and talked to my parents about Lent, hoping to understand why we didn't partake in practice. My parents encouraged me to study further, pray, and think through it to see if it was something that I would like to incorporate into my faith. Throughout the years, the only consistent thing about my Lent practice has been my inconsistency. However, each year, as the calendar creeps towards Ash Wednesday, I feel that familiar tug to consider the practice of Lent. If you ask if you should participate in Lent or what you should give up, here are some things to consider.
What Is Lent?
Before considering giving up something for Lent, we must know the holiday's history. Lent is a time of remembering the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. Before commencing His public ministry, Jesus went into the desert, fasted, and was tempted repeatedly by Satan for 40 days and nights. Yet, during that time, Jesus remained sinless. Lent commences with sorrow, remembering our Savior, Jesus, and His death on the cross. But Lent ends on Easter Sunday, a day marked by celebration; Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. He lives!
In the Western world, lent is typically observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and a few other Orthodox religions. It's not as common in Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational churches, which hints at why I was unfamiliar with the practice. While Christians observe Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, the observance of Lent is not as widely practiced by all Evangelicals.
Why Do Some Denominations Not Observe Lent?
While there are three accounts of Jesus' time in the desert found in Scripture ( Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Bible doesn't mention the practice of fasting before the 40 days before Christ's resurrection. Christians fall on both ends of the spectrum regarding Lent. Some believe firmly in fasting or giving up something for Lent, and others feel deeply that the practice tends to be a works-based strategy to secure their right standing with God.
I will expand further, but the Lord looks at our hearts' motivation. There can be those who participate in Lent with the wrong motives, those who don't and wrongfully judge those who do, and those who observe Lent without a heart's desire to worship the Lord.
What Should I Give Up for Lent?
Lent intends to remind us of the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, giving of His life, so that those who accept Him as Savior can have eternal life. As Christians, remembering God's grace and mercy is hopefully a daily practice. But, if perhaps we've strayed and allowed life's distractions and busyness to take the place of time with God, then Lent is a beautiful opportunity to re-orient and re-align our minds.
Conversely, we use the term "give up" when discussing things we will abstain from for forty days, but the biblical idea is fasting. Fasting is found numerous times in Scripture, and fasting in Lent directly correlates to Jesus' time of fasting in the desert for 40 days. When we traditionally think of fasting, we lean towards going without food or drink for some time. On Ash Wednesday, it is traditional practice to fast for the day; remember that the Lord is our provider for our spiritual and physical needs.
The options are numerous when it comes to fasting for Lent. The first thing we should do is pray and ask the Lord to lay something on our hearts that perhaps we have allowed to become an idol, distraction, or roadblock to our faith. Here are some examples:
You tend to overindulge in sweets regularly, to the point you make yourself sick. Maybe you fast from candy for forty days.
Your coffee habit has turned more into an addiction, and you find yourself dipping into your savings to fuel your cravings. You could make coffee at home for the Lent season.
Every morning, you wake up exhausted but can't stop binging on streaming services late into the night. For the next forty days, the television may stay off.
These are just examples; the principle behind fasting is that we give up something we enjoy or take the place of God in our lives to better focus on Him.
Instead of Giving Something Up, Add Something for Lent
Lent is based on three pillars: fasting, prayer, and giving to others. If you don't feel a personal conviction to give something up for Lent, maybe consider incorporating something into your life over the next forty days.
Has your prayer life been lacking recently? Before you start your day, set a five-minute timer each morning to talk to God. Have you tried to get involved in a local charity but can't find the time? Make it a priority to contact the coordinator and sign up to serve. How is your Bible study going? Take this time to read a few extra chapters each day, journal what the Lord is saying in His Word, and take some time to meditate on the timeless truths of Scripture.
Again, as we discussed in fasting for Lent, choosing to add something during this season should be bathed in prayer and careful consideration.
However you choose to observe or not observe the days leading up to Easter, I pray that we take the opportunity to meditate on the good news, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)."
Laura Bailey is a Bible teacher who challenges and encourages women to dive deep in the Scriptures, shift from an earthly to an eternal mindset, and filter life through the lens of God’s Word. She is the author of Beyond the Noise, and loves any opportunity to speak and teach women of all ages. She is a wife and momma to three young girls. Connect with her on her website, www.LauraRBailey.com