This year the NLCF community is engaging Lent together. It’s nice.
However, as I have been talking to people, a couple of common themes emerge. One is that the focus is more on what is being given up than on the reason or what people hope to gain through the process.
Now some of this is understandable. The question “what are you giving up?” rolls out more easily and can be discussed in different groups more easily than the deeper probing questions sometimes.
On the other side of the discussion, I seem to be running across more “web chatter” about why giving something up for Lent is unnecessary, and to take the wording of some, even a bit dangerous for those wanting a close and intimate relationship with Jesus. The idea is that Jesus never asked us to give up coffee for Him, He asked us to follow Him with our whole lives. As such, giving up coffee can produce a sense of false piety.
Probably unsurprising to many who know me, I see value in both concerns.
To handle the second, well first…
There has always been the practice of intentionally going without in scripture. Releasing what we could have access to, either to allow the kingdom of God to function as it should (the practice of landowners not harvesting wheat from the edges of their fields, and leaving some between the rows so the poor could get this grain comes to mind) or for the purpose of drawing us closer to God personally (the practice of fasting as a means of remaining humbled before God and reminding ourselves of our daily need of him). The tithe is another example… there are many more.
So, following God’s direction to take away something we could have and value is a good and long-standing practice. Sure, it can produce false-piety; anything we do for God can do that. But that has much less to do with the process in and of itself and more to do with the fact that we are the ones engaging in the process.
Now for the first issue, of putting more focus on what we are giving up than on what we are hoping to experience from God…
Again, this is an easy trap to fall into, and it happens all the time. Our challenge is to remember that just removing caffeine from our diet, or desserts, or just shutting down Facebook, or not watching TV at night is intended to remind us of our need for God and to give us more time to spend with Him or the people He is directing us to. So the giving up is the start, but it is only the start.
And for many of us, there are things in our lives we battle with daily, and these things seem to large, or have been too large for us to see victory. Starting with giving up something that, while difficult, is do-able, can be a great start. If someone who has rarely or never exercised wakes up one day and decides to run the Ironman, that process will likely need to start with a little jogging, a little swimming, and a little biking. Small starts, can lead to amazing things.
~ Jim Pace