For the past few years I’ve participated in some form of Lenten “fast.” While my church tradition (Baptist) doesn’t usually participate in Lent, I’ve found it a good spiritual discipline. I use it in two ways: 1) I give up something I like in an effort to spark attention towards more spiritually weighty matters, and 2) I try to pick up a good habit by spending the time normally taken up by item 1 with something better. For example, one year I gave up secular music* and podcasts. I didn’t listen to jazz or pop music, only to Christian music. I didn’t listen to Click and Clack or the Modern Drummer podcast or any of my other normal podcasts. I listened only to Christian podcasts. So I let go of something I liked, and replaced it with something more spiritually substantial.
Lent starts this Wednesday, and I’m considering what to do this year. As I contemplate, the following scriptures keep coming to mind.
- A sacrifice must cost you something. You can’t give up something you don’t care about, and expect it to bring you a heightened spiritual awareness. I don’t normally drink alcohol. Therefore, abstaining from alcohol isn’t going to cost me anything. No big whoop. There will be no craving, and therefore nothing to trigger my brain; I can’t say “Man I wish I could have a beer, but I can’t so I’ll pray instead” because I’m not going to be wishing for beer. It’s not something I care about, so giving it up will be of no value. “I can’t offer the LORD my God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)
- Make sure your Lenten fast, though sacrificial, is attainable. “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Consider carefully what you say to God you will do. I’ve never given up coffee for Lent. Since losing over 100lbs 10 or so years ago, coffee has become my drink of choice: no calories. I can’t imagine not drinking coffee for over a month. I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. I shan’t be giving up coffee this year. Perhaps some year I’ll be spiritually strong enough to do it. Until then, I’ll choose to abstain from something that “hurts,” but I won’t pick something that I think is going to cause me to stumble in my vow.
- Don’t make a big deal about your fast. See Matthew 6:16 and following verses. Don’t try to impress people with your piety. Don’t make a show of it. When I’m fasting, usually no one knows by me and God. In fact, I don’t even usually tell my wife about what I’m up to. As you consider your Lenten fast, think about doing it in such a way that’s private in an effort to keep your pride in check. Or maybe it’s just me that struggles with pride. 😉
*As a musician, I gave myself a specific out clause on my music fast. If there was a gig I had to play, and I had to learn music I didn’t know, I allowed myself to listen to those particular songs for the sake of my livelihood. Other than that limited example, it was all Christian music and spiritual podcasts.