As I write this, it is Shrove Tuesday, and I am looking forward to justifiably having some pancakes for my supper! That means that tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is the start of the season of Lent: the period in the Church calendar which leads us towards Easter.
I wonder if you’ve decided to give something up for Lent? Because that’s what we do for Lent, isn’t it? Give up smoking, or coffee, or chocolate?
Certainly, the perception of our culture is that this is what Lent is about: giving up “something bad for us”. And don’t get me wrong: there is no harm in self-discipline or taking less of something we know isn’t good for us (I include myself in this – I could certainly do with eating more healthily!). But, if we think this is all that Lent is about, I am afraid we’ve missed the point.
The 40 days of Lent are meant to reflect the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting (which is why we sometimes “give something up” for Lent) and being tempted by the devil. This was a time of, among other things, spiritual testing for Jesus, and He came out of it in the best way: He showed His complete devotion to God’s plan and purpose.
If Jesus experienced spiritual testing during this time, then perhaps it would be better for us to spend this time focusing on our faith, rather than “giving something up”? It doesn’t need to be anything too difficult either! What if you committed to reading a chapter of the Bible each of the next 40 days? (You could read all the Gospel of Mark and Luke if you try that!) Or, if you don’t already, could you make sure to spend time in prayer each morning and night? I am certain that giving your faith this kind of attention will have a positive impact on your relationship with God.
Others may wish to do something more adventurous. There are various ways you can “take something up” instead of “giving something up” this Lent. Groups like 40 Acts and Christian Aid encourage us to do something to support and benefit others, rather than just focussing on ourselves. You can find these, and many other resources online (or if you prefer you can speak to me, and I can tell you more).
Whatever you do over the coming weeks of Lent, it is my sincere hope and prayer that God blesses you, as you focus your time and energies on your relationship with Him.