What should we give up to God for Lent that would make Him happy?
– SE from Jamaica, NY
What is Lent? (Part 1)
Of course this is a very timely question since the Lenten season just started. But first of all: what is Lent? There may be those who don’t know much about it except that it is associated with getting ashes for the forehead on Ash Wednesday or has something to do with Fat Tuesday and/or Mardi Gras or inspires fish fries on Fridays. It all depends on where you grew up.
Lent is actually one of the oldest Christian observances. It is mentioned as early as the second century AD but seemed to last then only two or three days and was associated mostly as preparation for new Christian converts before baptism. In 325 AD the Council of Nicea instituted it as a forty-day season with fasting leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
In the 600s, Gregory the Great introduced Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in which Christians would receive ashes on their foreheads with this admonition: “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you will return.” (From Genesis 3:19) Fasting requirements were stringent for all days except Sunday which was considered a feast day.
What is the purpose of Lent? It is a time set apart in the calendar year for self-examination, penitence and self-denial. The last week of Lent is Holy Week where Christ’s final days before the crucifixion are celebrated and remembered. His sacrifice was so great that it is a good time to slow down and reflect on it and on its significance.
In many church cultures it is popular to “give something up” for Lent. This was true in my own upbringing. In addition to fasting obligations we were encouraged to deny ourselves something all forty days such as candy or ice cream or other favorite foods. That leads into your question: what should we give up that will make God happy?
Making it significant (Part 2)
In my view, Lent is more for us than it is for God. It offers opportunity for spiritual discipline which can have great value if done in the right spirit but does not alter God’s opinion of us one iota. His love for us is complete NO MATTER WHAT. We can’t make him happier by anything we give up for Lent.
Remember, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) As far as pleasing him, the scripture that comes to my mind regarding that has nothing to do with any acts of sacrifice on our part. It is: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6)
So am I saying to skip the “giving up” or ignore Lent altogether? No, actually I think that Lent is a beautiful rich season worthy of our attention. While always observed in liturgical churches, it is lately gaining popularity in evangelical circles. Scripture definitely calls us to regular times of fasting and Lent is a good time to participate. It is also a good time to intentionally meditate on the life of Jesus, particularly regarding redemption and grace. It opens a door to deep gratitude and deep intimacy with the Savior.
If you want to give something up, give up something that will really work toward killing the flesh so that the spirit can live with more vibrancy. Don’t do it with the idea that you are pleasing God because as I already said, it is more for your benefit than for his. Still, there is that saying that “it’s the thought that counts.” If you truly desire to please your heavenly Father, I’m sure that counts with him very much.