What are you supposed to do for lent? If you polled ten bible-believing, evangelical Christians, you might still get ten different answers. So I write this post knowing there might be some folks who are uncomfortable with engaging in lent at all, and others who are uncomfortable with taking it too lightly.
However, I want to look at lent from a gospel-centered, biblical view, and how it should apply to me. To do this, I'm looking at Matthew 4, where Jesus wandered in the desert for 40 days (where we get our lenten tradition). The context is important, because otherwise we miss the point of lent entirely. So here's the first three verses:
"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'"
Notice there are two characters in this dramatic story. One is Jesus, who is hungry after fasting for forty days. The temptation is to marvel at how He has withheld from eating for 40 days. But that's not the point of this story. In verse 1 we see the point was for Jesus not to go hungry, but to be tempted. And He is tempted by the second character, known as the tempter (revealed to be the devil). The question in this is: How is he being tempted? Is it just because of food? No... he is tempting Him to doubt His diety and identity! Notice how the devil says "If you are the Son of God." The Devil is saying prove yourself. That is the point of the forty day trial, the devil is tempting Jesus to doubt His true diety and identity.
Jesus' response to this tempting is what we wouldn't expect. It would be easy for Jesus to prove Himself by doing what the devil said, showing off His immense power. It would be the natural response. However, what He does is actually remarkable. He merely believes in the written Word of God. We see this in v. 4, "But He answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus says that He will depend on God to not only sustain Him, but also to maintain His belief in His diety and identity.
So how does that impact how we should treat lent? I think there are a few things that this doesn't mean:
1. It doesn't mean our worth is in giving something up -- because our value is in Christ dying for us on the cross.
2. It doesn't mean God will love us more the more we keep lent -- How could we be more loved by a God who is already perfectly pleased with us in Christ.
3. It doesn't mean God will be mad with you if don't do lent
4. Lent is not a 40 day retreat from doing sin -- As believers in Christ, we are called to put sin to death, not keep it at bay for 40 days to feel better about ourselves.
5. Lent is not meant to be used for ulterior motives -- it's ok to give up food, but if the point is just to lose weight or be healthier in life style, that's not the right motivation.
Then what is the right motivation? I think the key is in Matthew 4. First off, there is no command in the scriptures to do lent. So you and I are free to not partake. However, what we see with Jesus is that He uses the time to draw nearer to His Father. He trusts His Father's Words over both physical hunger pangs, as well as spiritual questions. Imagine if your Father sent you out into the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat. It would be pretty easy to assume your Father isn't trustworthy. However, Jesus trusts His Father perfectly by trusting His Word over the tempter's pleas. Therefore, if we do partake of lent, it should be with the intent of increasing our intimacy and trust with Jesus, NOT to earn magical brownie points or to feel good about ourselves. With that being said, here is what I hope to give up for lent, and why:
1. Buffalo Wings (any variation) -- A common struggle for me is gluttony, and particularly I can see food as a cheap comfort when I feel discouraged or sad. Wings are my number 1 go-to (and I will bank my day on an all-you-can-eat wing buffet). So, while wings aren't sinful, my hope is that as I'm tempted to long for my favorite food, that instead I would turn to Jesus as my source of food, and that I would believe Psalm 81:10, that Jesus would fill my mouth.
2. Looking at a scale -- When I go to the gym, it's easy to bank my day on the number I see on the scale. In fact, I'll step on the scale before and after my workout. If it's higher than I want, my mood shifts. If it's lower, I'm excited. While it's ok to look at the scale (and actually recommended to do), I often see my identity in that number rather than in what Jesus already thinks of me. So I'm going to practice putting my identity in Christ and not do it by looking at my weight.
3. YouTube -- When I'm at home, my go-to thing to do is to do nothing. And I typically do that by watching YouTube. There's nothing sinful about YouTube itself. But I'm seeing in my life a routine seeking of comfort in watching the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer for 481st time (that number may or may not be exaggerated), rather than the greatest comforter in the person of Jesus Christ.
My hope is that I wouldn't put my hope in not doing these things for 40 days, but rather that I would cultivate a heart that seeks to find comfort, and place my identity, in Jesus more fully. I also hope that as lent ends, I can use all three of these things in a more God-honoring way; escaping my shallow escapes so that I may escape to true refuge.
In His Grace,