It’s Shrove Tuesday, which means pancakes, pancakes, pancakes! It also means Lent is about to start and along with it talk of fasting. It’s easy to feel pressured to give something up or to feel guilty if you don’t so we thought we’d take a quick look at what Lent is all about so we try and keep it about Jesus not about whether we can make it to Easter Sunday without eating chocolate.

So first of all, why give something up?
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). He was asking us to be willing to sacrifice and to follow him no matter the cost; he was talking to us about ‘dying to self’. That means letting go of our selfish wants and desires and submitting ourselves to him. What’s amazing and important to remember is that he is loving and he knows best. So if he asks us to give something up, it won’t be wasted. When we let go of the things that feel hugely important to us and embrace him, we gain something far more important: Jesus himself. Sacrifices in our lives make room for more of him and he is the greatest gift any of us could ask for.

Taking time during Lent to fast helps us to prepare for Easter when we come together as a church family to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we’ve experienced something of this ‘dying to self’ during Lent we will know even greater joy when we break our fast and celebrate the fact that Jesus wasn’t defeated by the cross but rose from the dead.

The period of Lent also refers to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness when he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Lent itself is 46 days because Sundays are considered feasting days when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus so that means if you fast something Monday to Saturday you can enjoy it on a Sunday as an act of celebration!

A reminder: Something it’s important to say is that fasting doesn’t make God love us more! Hopefully that’s obvious but it’s easy to get sucked into thinking we’re failing and letting God down if we’re not able to complete a 40-day fast. We can never make God love us any more than he does now and we can never make him love us any less because his love for us is about his goodness not about what we do.

What should I give up?

The best thing to do is to spend a bit of time asking God what would be a good idea for you personally, but here are some suggested areas to think and pray about:

– Something that you gives you extra time to spend with Jesus. Maybe when you’re walking instead of listening to music or looking at your phone you could spend time praying. Perhaps you could give up one meal a week or TV at the weekend and use that time to read your Bible instead.
– Something that you will miss. When King David was offered oxen for his burnt offering he said, ‘I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ (2 Samuel 24:24) There’s little point in me giving up Coke when I never drink it but for someone else that would be a huge, daily sacrifice. There’s also little point giving up something you love and then having something similar as a substitute to take away the craving. Instead when you feel that longing, turn it into a prayer, reminding yourself that you’re longing for God more than anything else.
– Something that will save you money. This isn’t about saving cash but about putting the money you’d usually spend on things like Big Macs, hot chocolates or on iTunes to even better use. There might already be a charity or cause you’re passionate about but if not, pray and ask God where you could send your money. You might want to chat to friends about gathering your money together and sending it off to make a bigger impact and to encourage each other to keep going.
– Something that needs adjusting in your life. It may be that God wants to show you how spending so much time on social media is negatively impacting the way you feel about yourself and your life. Maybe the type of TV programme you love fills your head with unhelpful thoughts. It might be you rely on buying new clothes or wearing make up to make yourself feel better when God wants you to know you’re amazing just as you are. All of us have areas like these where things where things get a bit distorted and giving up something for Lent can help give us a new perspective and kick start us into healthier, more godly habits.

The danger! It’s really easy to make this legalistic and to spend our time focusing on what we’re giving up rather than on God and what he wants to do in our lives. Let’s remember to keep it about him and his goodness and to remember we’re not trying to earn his love by our sacrifice.

Do I have to give something up?

Lent is also a great time to take something up and to develop a new, helpful habit, perhaps for the 40 days or even for the long term. This might be a daily habit or setting yourself some goals/challenges to complete before Easter such as:

– Reading through the whole of the gospels or the gospel accounts of the events around Easter.
– Taking time each day or once a week to focus and reflect on the cross and think about Jesus’ sacrifice.
– Start a gratitude journal, writing down three things a day that you’d like to thank God for.
– If you’d like to develop your generosity check out 40 Acts from Stewardship. Each day they have an act you can complete and they’ve given you three options (green, amber and red) so you can pick the one that suits your time and circumstances best. You can share your experiences and find out how others are getting involved on social media using #40acts.
– Look outwards and get inspired about how your faith can impact the world and help those facing poverty and injustice through Soul Action
– Open Doors have put together a Fast Food small group resource which suggests you share a meal with friends and take up challenges that will help give you a taste of what life is like for persecuted Christians around the world.

Hopefully that’s given you some ideas of how you could make this Lent period a significant time in your relationship with God. There’s no pressure to do anything but it can be really helpful to use this time to reflect on Jesus’ great sacrifice and to allow him time and space to speak into our lives.

A prayer

Lord, I long to draw closer to you during this period of Lent.
I ask that you would show me what I can give up or take up that will help me to reflect on the sacrifice you made for me on the cross and will help me make more space for you in my life.
Help me to remember that you love me and you are for me, always, as I rest in your unfailing grace.
Help me to draw strength from your great sacrifice as I offer you my life, sacrificially, in response to your great love.

Soul Survivor