Missed the start of Lent? Jump in now ... and give up something weird

One week into my first time practising Lent, the period has already been an unexpected blessing.

I grew up in a Christian household, but we were more focused on the substance of the teaching and community than connected to a particular denominational tradition. We attended church every Sunday, and commemorated Easter, Christmas, communion and the like. But there was less of a sense of participating in the year-round ‘church calendar’, including traditions like Lent.

So this year I started small (and a little weird).

The essence of Lent

If Lent is as mysterious to you as it was to me, here’s the gist.

Over 40 days, Christians prepare their hearts and minds for Easter by praying, reading the Bible, practising good works and (in one sense or another) fasting.

In 2024 the period began for Western Churches on 14 Feb – Ash Wednesday (and, coincidentally, Valentine’s Day) – while Eastern Orthodox churches follow a slightly different calendar called ‘Great Lent’.

In fact, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, because traditionally Sundays aren’t included in Lenten fasting, being ‘feast days’.

The period reflects the biblical account when “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” and fasted for forty days and nights. (Matthew 4:1-2)

The Judaean desert, where Jesus was tempted by Satan Amit Lahav / Unsplash

The spirit of Lent is perhaps well summarised in one of Jesus’ replies to Satan’s temptations in that passage. When the devil tempted him to turn stones to bread (and, in doing so, to satisfy his hunger cravings), Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

For many, Lent means fasting not only from food, but from anything that presents an idol.

In that spirit, Lent is a period to acknowledge that we are sustained not by bread alone, but by the God who meets all of our needs.

For many, this means fasting not only from food, but from anything that presents an idol – anything that hinders us from recognising our sin and unfaithfulness, our mortality and dependence on God – and intentionally communing with God in prayer and fasting, and in contemplation of his word and obedience to it.

Good and bad reasons to practice Lent

It’s important to note that, while some branches of the Christian church have longstanding (and sometimes strict) Lenten traditions, observing Lent is not a biblical instruction.

It’s crucial that those who do practice Lent remember two things: first, Jesus explicitly prohibited his followers from intentionally displaying their fasting as a symbol of piety (Matthew 6:16); and second, Jesus and Paul both spoke very harshly about Pharisaism, hypocrisy and law without grace (cf. Colossians 2:16).

Don’t practise Lent because you want to seem virtuous, and don’t practise Lent because it’s what ‘good Christians’ do.

But if we can avoid those pitfalls, Lent can be a precious gift, bringing us to humility, repentance and greater joy with the coming of Easter.

Intentionally dwelling on Jesus’ gruesome and gracious death on Good Friday makes our brokenness (and so God’s grace) known to us more and more deeply. It enables us to reflect on our mortality and sinfulness, examining our discipleship and recommitting to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strengths, in honour of both his loving sacrifice on Good Friday and his glorious triumph on Easter Sunday. And, in the process, Lent reveals the idols that often prevent us from doing this spiritual work.

With all those benefits on offer, I decided to really push myself by giving up … podcasts.

Choose something weird

If you belong to a Christian tradition with a specific method of observing Lent, like fasting from meat on certain days, then go for it. Do it in communion with God, bearing in mind the purposes of Lent which we’ve already discussed.

But, either way, let me encourage you to be a bit creative. If the goal is to expose idols, challenge sinful desires and invite deeper repentance and discipleship, then at least some of us will be better off giving up social media or television or coffee or alcohol.

These are good gifts, but only when we receive them as gifts. When they become idols, it is better to lose something – even something precious – than to stumble (Matthew 5:30).

Our God is a jealous God: he wants all of your heart and all of your worship.

Podcasts are great. But they’re no replacement for him.

I almost never feel like doing it, but I never regret it.

Lent is a golden opportunity to set aside these things that temporarily satisfy, the temptations we feel we can’t go without, the habits we turn to for safety and reassurance, the things that fill the gap between our expectations and reality, the things that get us through the day or through the week, the comforts that alleviate our fears.

For me, it was pleasure.

The endorphin boost of listening to podcasts while travelling, shopping, exercising, driving, cleaning and eating (seriously, I have a problem) satisfied my boredom, calmed my fears, lightened my disappointments and helped get me through the day. Now, I often spend that time listening to worship music, praising God and inviting him into my fears and disappointments.

So far, I almost never feel like doing it, but I never regret it.

Could I let this go?

So here’s your challenge: During Lent, set aside the idols that provide false hope, in favour of the hope that we celebrate not only as the climax of the Lent, but the climax of history – the hope that Jesus died and was raised for our salvation.

Satisfaction, safety and comfort are not to be found in the things we give up for Lent, but in the person we see most clearly on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Ask yourself honestly, ‘What is it that draws my heart away from finding satisfaction in God himself?’

Then ask yourself boldly, ‘Could I let this go, and find what I desire (and much more) in him?’

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