How Lent Should Be Spent

March 22, 2020

The Pharisees, who were the religious leaders when Jesus was on earth, fasted regularly on the second and fifth day of every week.  And as you heard in our third Scripture reading (Matthew 6:16-18), they wanted to make sure everyone knew it.  But remember what our Lord said in our first two Scripture readings (Isaiah 58:3-5 and 6-10).  Fasting, or giving up something, usually a certain food, group of foods, or even all food, when done only for show or with a self-righteous attitude, does not impress God in the least. 

I’m sure you have all run into someone who likes to tell everyone what they are giving up for Lent, and then asking you what YOU are giving up.  If you say “nothing”, they give you a look of pious disgust.  You might hear something like, “Oh, I would just love to have a piece of that pie you baked, but I am giving up dessert for Lent.  But you go right ahead and enjoy a piece yourself.”  Of course, they don’t really mean the last part of that.  They want you to feel as guilty as possible.  But you know what? If you have decided that instead of giving up dessert for Lent, you are going to make some extra donations to the Food Pantry, go ahead and enjoy that piece of pie!  But don’t be tempted to brag about how much you are giving to the Food Pantry, because then you are no better than the person trying to make you feel guilty for eating pie.

On the other hand, don’t misunderstand me and go around telling everyone that Pastor Karen says fasting is bad and we shouldn’t do it.  That is not what I am saying at all.  Fasting, if done for the right reasons and in the right way, can do a great deal to bring you closer to God.  But let’s say you have been meaning to go on a diet to lose those extra pounds, so you decide to cut out those high-calorie treats you know have been adding inches around your middle, so you figure by doing so you are ‘fasting for Lent’.  Are you really?  Your motivation isn’t to draw closer to God, cleanse your spirit, or show your repentance, it is to make yourself look better. 

When Moses fasted for 40 days upon Mt. Sinai, it was to prepare himself to receive the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:28).  When Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness it was to prepare for his ministry on this earth (Matthew 4:2).   Paul went without food and water for three days after he saw the glory of Jesus and heard the voice to repent (Acts 9:9).  So if you feel the Spirit leading you to fast, whether during Lent or any other time of the year, or perhaps as part of a concentrated effort to pray for the end of the current coronavirus pandemic, then by all means, follow the leading the Holy Spirit; and the Lord will bless you for doing so.

But I stress once again that it must be done for the right reasons with the proper motivation for it to be effective and not counter-productive.  The prophet Joel wrote, ““Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate.”  (Joel 2:12-13).  ‘Rending your garments’ refers to another practice that was meant to show repentance.  But instead of just an outward show, God wanted their hearts to be changed.

What about all of the other practices common during Lent?  Extra reading of the Bible and other devotional material, more time alone in prayer and meditation, extra giving of time and resources?  All good during Lent – and any other time of the year!  But again, not for show, but for personal spiritual cleansing and growth, and to be a blessing to others.

Do we need to be somber and serious, wear dark clothing, or pretend that we are too pious to smile?  Definitely not!  Yes, we should take the suffering and death of our Lord and Savior very seriously.  But we should also be filled with joy that he did so for us, and remember that he also rose from the grave and is preparing a place in heaven for all who love him.  It is hard not to be joyful when you think about that!  When Jesus prayed for his disciples shortly before his death, he said to his Father, “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.”  (John 17:13).  Filled with joy!  Are you filled with joy?  If you have given your heart to Jesus, repented of your sins, and asked Him to be your Savior and Lord, putting all of your faith in his death and resurrection; then you have the Holy Spirit living within you, which is what fills us with unspeakable joy, a joy too powerful to be suppressed by fasting, by our troubles in this world, or anything else that the devil can throw at us.  So as the apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  (Philippians 4:4).  Amen.  


"Smile"  (Sidewalk Prophets)

"Happy Dance"  (MercyMe)