Article of the week: What are you giving up?

26 February 2022

Major Ray Hobbins considers how we respond to Lent

Article of the week: What are you giving up?

AT some point in the next few days, I’m sure we will all be asked: ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ This may be followed by the rhetorical question: ‘Cake, chocolate, TV?’ The same old clichés.

Many Christians do commit to fasting or giving up particular luxuries for Lent to remember Jesus’ sacrifice during his journey into the desert. However, compared to our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness – including a battle with Satan in which every temptation was skilfully put to him – giving up chocolate seems insignificant. Jesus, humanly speaking, gave up every right to satisfy himself in order to accomplish God’s will. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: Why am I giving something up? What purpose will it serve?

When Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, he had God-given inspiration to do so – he obeyed his calling to do it. He not only obeyed the word that he heard, but also used it in his defence and in attack: ‘It is written... It is written… It is written…’ (Matthew 4:4–10). He left the wilderness with God’s purpose fulfilled.

What about our own response? Is it based on faith, fasting or fun? Is it a token Lent or a personal sacrifice that costs?

In Amos 5 the prophet challenges the people with regard to their religious festivals and practices, informing them that the Lord finds what they are doing an abomination. He would rather see ‘justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (v24). In other words, he would rather they gave up their outward religion for heartfelt action and worship. In the same way, would it be better for us to give up pride, prejudice or self-preservation for Lent?

I have known situations in which people happily give up chocolate or something else, yet ignore someone for years because of a historical problem. It is better to break the mould and go to the other person seeking reconciliation, turning bitterness to sweetness, even if it will be more costly than a bar of chocolate.

Romans 12:21 says: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ And in Matthew 5:23 and 24, Jesus says: ‘If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.’

‘But they were in the wrong, not me,’ we might say. That could well be the case, but the innocent person would still do well to endeavour to make things up before returning to the altar with a clean sheet. ‘But what if they don’t respond to me?’ we might ask. Well, if they don’t and you have done all you can in the right spirit of love and mercy, you can move on and offer your gift with a good conscience – yet still pray for them.

Jesus, the perfect, innocent, sinless man, made the ultimate sacrifice for us sinners. He took the initiative for our sake, showing love, mercy and grace. Having received such, we ought to do likewise.

If we do choose to give something up for Lent, whatever it is, we should do so in private. Jesus says: ‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (Matthew 6:16–18).

In other words, we should make our Lenten sacrifice a private transaction with the Almighty. Blessings will come to us and their fruit will bless those around us; our fasting will feed others and God will get the glory and praise.


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