What Should I Give up for Lent?

Posted: March 9th, 2019 | Author: James Early | Filed under: Easter | No Comments »
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The question among many Christians for the next few weeks is “What are you giving up for Lent?”

Oh my! There are so many different answers. One category is material things: chocolate, soda, pizza, sex, ice cream, using plastic bottles, etc.

Another category includes things like not being critical of people, giving up negative thinking about oneself, feeling ashamed, getting rid of self-destructive behavior.

Still another approach I’ve heard is to volunteer at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, or some organization which is helping those in need.

And just the other day someone suggested that each day of Lent to pick one thing to get rid of that you no longer use, put it in a bag, then after Easter, donate the bag of stuff to thrift shop or some charitable organization.

All these activities are wonderful in and of themselves. But my big question is, why only do this in a short window of time before Easter?

I’ve heard all the reasons people say. It’s to repent and prepare our hearts for the Easter season or remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his triumph in the resurrection.

It’s a time of self-denial and prayer to be closer to God and become a better follower of Jesus.

For Biblical backup of Lent, Jesus’ words are usually quoted, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV)

This is all good. We should certainly aim for these things.

But I have a problem with Lent.

It doesn’t really go far enough. Self-denial is great. Giving up selfish desires and practices are wonderful for our spiritual growth and discipleship. But why focus on these things only in the 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter.

Jesus says in the verse quoted above to take up our cross daily. He did not say, just for 40 days each year. There was no such seasonal practice of self-denial and penitence in the Early Church for about 100 years.

Over time, Lent went from one or two days before Easter to the current 40.

Why only 40 days? Is self-indulgence acceptable the day after Easter?

If we really want to be followers of Jesus, we should be in a day-by-day mindset of self-denial and repentance all year long. We should be celebrating the resurrection each day of every year.

Jesus said to Martha of Bethany, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He didn’t say he was or will be the resurrection. This is still the case. Jesus Christ is the resurrection right now.

The only true way to follow Jesus is to observe Lent every single day, year after year.

What’s the point of giving something up and then, 40 days later, going right back to selfish or inappropriate behavior? If you’re going to stop doing something to follow Jesus better, why go back to it?

If Lent is an important time of year for you because it helps refocus your life on Jesus, that’s great. I’m glad you find it helpful.

But if you observe Lent just because it’s something you’re supposed to do and the ideas don’t take root way down deep in your soul, I hope you will examine your motives.

I invite you to participate in Lent every day, not just from now until Easter, but every day for the rest of your life. I encourage you to take each new day as an opportunity to leave behind the old man and put on the new man, as Paul says.

We focus so much on the crucifixion most of the year and especially in the weeks before Easter, but we should be celebrating the resurrection every day.

Jesus did not just pray, “Not my will but Thine be done,” in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion. It was his modus operandi every single day throughout his entire life.

And it must be ours.


To Follow Christ Daily

Posted: August 24th, 2010 | Author: James Early | Filed under: Christian Discipleship, Doing God's will, Jesus Christ | 9 Comments »

“And [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”   Luke 9:23

Well there it is, Jesus’ simple plan for being a Christian.  It’s not some complicated theology of salvation.  It’s not some theoretical discussion or intellectual journey.

It’s a straightforward demand that is not complicated but takes commitment.  It is simple but profound.  And it is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world… to leave all for Christ and actually follow him.

There were people in Jesus’ day who professed loyalty and vowed to follow him where ever he went (see Matt 8:19,20).  But I don’t think Jesus was looking for the kind of loyalty to his personality that some folks then and now lavish on a celebrity.

He didn’t want people just to traipse around, doggedly following his every move.  He wanted his disciples not to copy his behavior and words but to accept and follow his teachings, to live his ideas in their own lives.

He wanted disciples who would live according to God’s will instead of their own.

The first step:  deny yourself.

What on earth does that mean—to deny yourself?  To say we don’t exist?  Of course not.  Among other things, I think it means that we put our own will aside and seek God’s will. To please God instead of earthly personalities—including ourselves.

It is no small feat to get yourself out of the way so you can honestly and sincerely desire to do God’s will before your own.  But you can’t stop there.  It’s not enough to tell God you’re willing to do whatever He says.  You have to follow through and actually DO it.

We usually tell God what we want instead of asking what He wants.  Or as my friend Jim says, “We pray for God’s will and then tell Him what it is.”

It takes a humble heart to set aside even our most cherished hopes and dreams and trust ourselves totally to God’s care and live our lives accordingly.

But this IS something we can do.  Jesus did not make any demands on us that we could not fulfill.

Step two:  take up your cross daily.

I’ve always wondered at this saying.  Jesus had not yet been on the cross.  His disciples were unaware that he would be.  What did they think this meant at the time?  I bet they thought about this demand in a whole new light after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

To take up your cross is to face the world’s opposition to the truth that Jesus preached.  It looked like Jesus was destroyed by this opposition.  But just the opposite is true.  He was the ultimate victor.

Jesus gave his disciples the authority and dominion to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick.  Christ gives you and me the same authority today.

We are to take up our cross.  Jesus did not say: Let the cross take you up.  In other words, we do not need to feel that by taking up our cross that we are being crucified—although sometimes it certainly feels like it.

Jesus is not telling us to be crucified.  He is commanding us—and giving us authority—to take up the cross, to deal with and defeat the material world’s resistance to and hatred of spiritual Truth.

And in case you didn’t notice, he says “daily.”  It is a daily process, a way of life.  Not just a one-time or occasional effort.  To be a Christian requires day by day, step by step consistency.

Step three:  “follow me.”

Whoa!!  That’s a tall order.  Thousands and thousands of books have been written about what it means to follow Jesus.  So I won’t try to say too much here.

What did Jesus mean when he said simply, “Follow me”?

Jesus expected his disciples then and now to follow him:  to think the thoughts he thought, to act the way he acted, to love with the Father’s love as he did, to seek and do God’s will in everything.

Christ calls to each of us today, “Follow me.”  There is no call more urgent.

How will you respond?