“Would you like half my brownie?”
“No thanks,” my friend said. “I’ve given up sugar for Lent.”
SEE ALSO: (Hopefully) Non-Self-Righteous Thoughts on the Observance of Lent
Guilt pinched my heart. I glanced around my church’s fellowship hall, filled with folks enjoying their meal. How many of them had also sacrificed something for Lent? I’d never given up anything during Lent. But should I?
For almost 2,000 years, Christians have set aside time for self-examination and repentance during the weeks before Easter. Early church fathers and the Council of Nicea (AD 325) observed days of fasting—from a few days to 40 days—but it was Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604) who established the 40-day season between Ash Wednesday and Easter that many 21st-century Christians observe.1
SEE ALSO: 5 Reasons Not to Observe Lent
Neither my family nor the church I attended as a child paid much attention to the Lenten season. Instead, they focused on the joyous celebration of our Risen Savior. In my adulthood, however, I’ve attended churches that offer Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Currently, I attend a church that offers Ash Wednesday services and Lenten Bible studies. I’ve learned to appreciate the somber time of reflection these services and studies provide.
Many Christians view Lent as an opportunity to refocus attention on God’s love for us, so great a love that he sent his son to die for our sins. Giving up something we love—a food or an activity—to remind us of God’s sacrificial love can be beneficial to our spiritual growth, especially if we replace it with a spiritual discipline such as Bible reading, prayer, or fasting. During Lent, we can evaluate our spiritual health—how well the life of the Risen Christ is being manifest in us.
SEE ALSO: For Lent, Give Up Lent
But I also see the danger of setting aside certain days for self-examination and repentance. Any spiritual practice can devolve into a hollow ritual; viewing some days as holier than others can lead to hypocrisy. We may develop a Lenten and non-Lenten attitude as easily as we develop a Sunday and non-Sunday mind-set, falling into the sin Jesus exposed in the Pharisees: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:8-9 NIV).
Many Scriptures remind us that physical sacrifices are only valuable if they’re given from a wholly devoted heart. The prophet Samuel told King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). And David wrote, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it.…The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit…a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 HCSB).
The Old Testament prophets consistently spoke out against sacrifices that were futile attempts to cover sinful actions. Jesus also criticized the religious leaders for offering sacrifices that meant nothing (Matthew 23:23-25). The same could be said of any spiritual practice we undertake for the wrong reason, whether it be Sunday morning worship, small-group Bible study, volunteer work, or personal devotional time.
Another danger of setting aside special times of sacrifice is our tendency to ignore these practices the rest of the year. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (NLT). It’s the daily-ness of sacrifice that most interests God and best reflects our commitment to him—a 365-day devotion to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8).
When Paul told the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, I think he had in mind the daily-ness of sacrifice (12:1-2). My commitment to Jesus should involve the following:
Motivation is everything. David said the one thing he desired was spending time in God’s presence (Psalm 27:4). He also spoke of daily fulfilling his vows to the Lord (Psalm 61:8). Another psalmist wrote that he thirsted for God like a deer thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1-2). Again, there’s the daily-ness factor. After all, how many times a day does a deer seek water?
Here are a few ways we can turn 40-day sacrifices into 365-day spiritual practices:
If the above practices are already part of your routine, consider adding these:
The core of the Easter message is the new life available to every person because of the redemption Jesus provided through his death and resurrection. If we’ve accepted Jesus as Savior, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, as Paul told the Galatian churches, “The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20 MSG).
If we spend the weeks before Easter cultivating a spiritual practice that makes our new life more evident to others year-round, we honor the Risen Christ who gave us that life, don’t we?
This article originally appeared on UnlockingTheBible.org. Used with permission.
Denise K. Loock is a freelance writer, editor, speaker, and Bible study teacher. She is the author of Open Your Hymnal: Devotions That Harmonize Scripture with Song and the founder of digdeeperdevotions.com, a website devoted to helping Christians dig deeper into the Word of God. She lives in Waynesville, NC, with her husband, Mace, and cat, Ginger.
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com
Publication date: March 20, 2017