Lent has a long history. It has been observed by the Church since the 4th century. It’s not specifically mentioned in Scripture but it is a biblical concept. There is a pattern in Scripture of God’s people being called to seasons of fasting, prayer and repentance – often for 40 day periods: Moses (Exodus 34), Elijah (1 Kings 19) and Jesus (Mathew 4). It’s not mandatory but it is a good way to draw closer to God and prepare for the celebration of Easter.
Personally, I am observing Lent by limiting my tv watching to Friday and Sunday nights. And I’ve given up cream in my coffee, which started out pretty tough and almost made me give up coffee all together. But the bitterness of the coffee is a pretty vivid reminder of the bitter cup that Christ had to drink so I’ve kept pressing through…and I’m slowly getting used to it. I have also tried to give up sweets but that has honestly not gone so well…so I don’t think it counts…
So the question from the beautiful ladies of Our Single Purpose assigned to me this month regarding lent is: What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t?
chocolate, coffee, music, more sleep…, more money…, a new pair of jeans, another pair of shoes, affection, appreciation, …did I mention chocolate?
These are things that I want and that sometimes definitely feel like a need but they are not things that I really need. Many people live on a lot less than what I have in my possession. Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:8, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Wow…that’s a tough standard (and I don’t think he had chocolate and new jeans in mind when he wrote that). I can be content for a few minutes after I have a piece of chocolate but it’s not long until I go on the prowl for my next piece. …I have a serious sweet tooth problem. So point being, contentment is hard!
Fasting during Lent helps with learning to be content. It brings back into perspective the Cross of Christ and His life leading up to it which makes my comforts (e.g. cream in my coffee, tv during the week after a long day at work…) less appealing. I get too tied to my things, my wants, my ways. My life gets too busy, and too full of temporary and passing things. My perspective gets off and my loves get out of order. Soon I start to put more stock in whether I get to watch a certain tv show rather than being sure that I am loving my husband (or roommate) well. Completely giving up, or at least considerably limiting, something (food, comforts, tv, etc.) in my life for a time loosens the bond that I have with that thing so that I see it for what it is—nice, but unnecessary.
The one thing I do need tends to be one of the last things or one of the hardest things for me to want to do. Luke 10:41-42 (a familiar and fitting life-verse for me) says ‘“Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Mary knew that Jesus, sitting at his feet and learning from Him, was the most important and most needed Person/thing in her life. Martha and I also need to learn that lesson because that’s where contentment is found. Consider these verses:
Philippians 4:11-13 – I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Giving up some of my comforts during Lent helps me say, “Not my will, but thine be done” (Lk 22:42) to whatever circumstance I find myself in…it helps me learn to “die to myself” which is very important to grow as a follower as Christ (Mt 16:24). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). And that’s what Lent is about, the decrease of me and the increase of Christ in my life and in the world.