Have you ever given up something for Lent?

While there are Anglican and Protestant churches that observe Lent—the 40 days before Easter—in some way, many associate the Lenten season with Roman Catholicism. And because some Catholics have come to see their participation in a Lenten fast as a way to somehow earn God’s grace, the practice of a Lenten fast has been cast off by those who hold firmly to the teaching of Scripture that our salvation is solely “according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

For most of my life, I paid no attention to the season of Lent. But several years ago, I started to rethink this season. For one thing, I recognized a great disparity in my own life between Christmas and Easter. Beginning in November, almost everything around me—from the songs on local radio stations to the movies on TV and in theaters to the decorations in shopping malls—started to shift the focus of my attention on the coming celebration of the birth of Christ. But Easter too often just snuck up on me.

Christmas is a wonderful, meaningful celebration of the incarnation of Christ. But Easter is the commemoration of the most pivotal event in all of human history. When I began to consider how much time and energy I spend every year just being aware of the coming celebration of Christmas, and how little time and energy I spend preparing my heart for the celebration of Easter, I decided something needed to change.

That’s where the practice of giving up something for Lent became a helpful spiritual tool for me. One year I gave up carbs for the 40 days of Lent. By choosing to deny myself something to which I was accustomed each day, I reminded myself that Easter was coming soon. I fasted for a reason—I knew a season of self-denial would prompt me to consider again the sufferings of Christ on my behalf. Whatever “suffering” I experienced by saying no to some craving was nothing compared to how He suffered for us.

Writing in Christianity Today, Michael Horton explains how observing Lent can draw our attention on a daily basis to the person and work of Christ on our behalf, particularly in the 40 days that lead up to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. “In my view, these special days are valuable chiefly as a teaching opportunity … I believe an evangelical celebration of Lent affords an opportunity to reinforce rather than undermine the significance of Christ’s person and work.”

For those who have never participated in a Lenten fast and who might want to try it this year, here is how a Lenten fast is traditionally practiced:

  • The fast begins 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday.
  • Sundays are excluded as fasting days. The tradition of the church to exclude Sundays as a fast day is based on the idea that each Sunday should be a day of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
  • While most people choose to fast from some type of food, some choose to fast from things like television or social media. Part of the purpose of a fast is to cultivate the spiritual fruit of self-control.
  • When you have a desire to do something that is off limits during the fast, use that as a prompt to spend time you would have spent in that activity praying or reading the Bible.

So when I gave up carbs for Lent, I wasn’t seeking to earn God’s favor. I didn’t do it to lose weight. And I didn’t think that by denying myself something during the Lenten season I was somehow more spiritual than someone else.

Instead, my carb fast provided me with a daily trigger to contemplate and meditate on the sufferings of Christ. When my body craved foods on my forbidden list, I had the opportunity to subject my flesh and make it my slave, and to not be mastered by my appetites (1 Corinthians 9:27). And for me, that was a good thing.

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