2 things to focus on during Lent to make it super-impactful
Lent may be one of the most misunderstood seasons.
If you treat it like another (failed) attempt to lose weight or somehow improve yourself, you are probably missing the point. That was me for the longest time. Going through the motions of rituals like some of my friends? That’s not any better. Check this out:
“You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?” Isaiah 58:5 NLT
God knows what we’re up to:
"It's because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.” Isaiah 58:3b-4 NLT
But there is good news. One of the truly wonderful things about God is that He loves you, and so
He never just leaves you hanging. Here’s the first thing to make this time effective and meaningful:
1) Don’t focus on giving up, but giving away
I love what Rick Warren taught us in A Purpose Driven Life:it’s not about you. Listen to God’s correction in the same passage:
"No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Isaiah 58:6-7 NLT
What if we were to rethink the whole thing about what we’re giving up, and flip it to what we can give away, something that others need? Skip a meal, so that you can provide a meal to somebody who needs it? Forego buying yourself those shoes or those clothes, so you can donate them? Turn off the TV, so you can spend time with your kids reading the Bible and praying, or visit the jail, or volunteer in your local homeless shelter, or the youth center, or dozens of other places in your community? Take extra time to do something for people who work for you, just to make their lives easier. (And here’s the real trick: do it in such a way that they won’t know it’s from you.)
Here’s the second thing to make this time super-significant.
2) Give away something that may be blocking you from God
A big one for us is our time. I can’t tell you how many people say, ‘I don’t have time to read my Bible,’ or ‘I’m just too busy to pray’ or ‘I really need to spend more time with my kids.’ The first part above goes a long way to redirecting our attention from ourselves to become more aware of the needs of those around us. Guess what? Intentionally giving our time away to benefit others can help bring us into a place of hearing from God.
For many of us all the STUFF we spend money on has a similar effect of distracting us from what’s important, namely our relationships with God and others, what Jesus calls the greatest commandment (Matt 22:37-39).
Certainly, there are other things that may be hindering our relationship with God, things that are dark and disturbing. As technology changes, addictions are manifesting themselves in new ways, each one meant to address a real and legitimate need in our lives, but in an illegitimate and unhealthy way. Whether it started as something benign like on-line computer games or a prescription for painkillers after a medical procedure, those things can take over our lives and end up destroying us. (For these, you will likely need professional help and counseling to quit.) What in your life is blocking you in your relationship with the Lord? That’s a good place to focus on giving it away!
Lent is the perfect time to dedicate a season to giving away, giving away things for the benefit of others, and giving away all that stuff that is blocking you in your relationship with the Lord.
"Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. 'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply.” Isaiah 58:8-9a NLT