I sat with two co-workers on an outdoor bench last week, sipping on a lavender-infused sparkling lemonade over lunch.
“This lemonade is changing my life right now,” I beamed.
“Such a welcome treat during my ‘no alcohol for Lent’ phase,” I groaned with an eye roll.
As one co-worker dreamed of what giving up red wine would do for her waistline and the other recounted replacing drinks with dessert during pregnancy, I felt a sharp twinge of conviction.
I gave up alcohol for Lent – for all the wrong reasons. Let’s unpack that for a moment.
- I gave it up at random, not out of calling.
- I’ve grumbled and complained about it since Ash Wednesday.
- I’ve been reluctantly obedient, checking my proverbial box.
- I’ve replaced it with other decadence because “I deserve it.”
- I’ve made it an ungrateful topic of conversation, spreading offense instead of sharing my faith.
But the thing that really gets me? I’ve somehow managed to make Lent all about me instead of all about Jesus.
The problem with Lent… is me.
*Excuse me while I bang my head against the keyboard for a moment…*
Before we go any deeper… I’m not here to debate the permissibility of alcohol in Christian life. That’s a post for another day. I’m here instead to explore why we may choose to fast over Lent, and how to do it faithfully.
Why do people give up things for Lent, anyway?
If you’re scratching your head, wondering why I would give up anything for 40 days in the first place, here’s a glimpse.
Lent is a 40-day period of self-examination and repentance to prepare our hearts for Easter. It’s a time for us to draw nearer to God and empathize with Christ’s Passion Week journey – when He willingly went to the cross to die in order to pay for our sins.
My Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have very specific regulations around Lenten fasting, but most Protestant churches don’t have strict rules on giving things up for Lent.
But “forty days” is anything but arbitrary. It’s a big deal in the Bible – and it’s a big deal for me.
In fact, the long-standing 40-day Lenten tradition inspired this blog two years ago. It started as willing sacrifice – and turned into overflowing abundance.
You see, two years ago, I fasted for all the right reasons. Practicing self-discipline in order to draw closer to God completely changed the course of my life.
How do you grow closer to God by giving something up?
Bestselling author Lysa TerKeurst sums it up brilliantly in her book, Made to Crave:
“We grow close to God by making the choice to deny yourself something that is permissible but not beneficial – and making this intentional sacrifice for the sole purpose of growing closer to God.”
God calls us differently from season to season:
- He may call you to fast from food or drink in some way.
- He may ask you to let go of activities that distract you from deeper relationship with Him, such as Facebook or Netflix series binges.
- He may even call you to add something in – perhaps a devotional practice or even an exercise routine.
But it’s bigger than an exercise in willpower.
The Holy Spirit is alive in us (Romans 8:11) – and gives us strength, power and authority to change in ways we could never muster on our own.
Lent aside, I encourage you to live your life daily with the willingness to walk away from something if the Holy Spirit whispers, “Let this go.”
If you fast for Lent, do it for the right reasons.
It’s out of our true identity as sons and daughters of the King of Heaven that we are obedient – never the other way around. No matter how hard we try, we can’t “earn” God’s love through our obedience. He gives it freely!
We don’t fast so God will love us more — we fast so we will love GOD more.
Without this baseline understanding, Lenten sacrifice becomes a meaningless tradition – something we just “do” without careful thought or clear leading. I confess — I blew it this season. But my brokenness fosters an even deeper appreciation for God’s grace. It’s never too late to repent and believe again.
Will I continue my own Lenten fast? Maybe. But not without taking it to God in prayer first, asking Him what He would have me do.
No matter what He says, I’m confident that He loves me right now – just as I am.
Did you give something up for Lent this year? If so, I encourage you to examine why you did and comment below.
(If the answer is anything other than “to grow closer to God,” I implore you to pause and ask the Father how He wants to be glorified through your sacrifice.)