If you plan to observe Lent or some variation of it, you may be contemplating what to give up this Easter season. If you’re still unsure if Lent is for you, read last week’s article to help you discern the best way to prepare your heart to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
Seek Scripture and ask God through prayer what He would lead you to lay at His feet, so that you can more fully take hold of Him.
“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).
Fasting and Feasting
Lent includes the elements of both fasting and feasting – emptying yourself of a carnal, momentary pleasure to experience a spiritual, eternal revelation. Therefore, don’t just decide what to give up. Choose also how you will fill up. Make a specific plan for when and where you will spend time with Jesus and how you will best utilize that time.
Reasons people fast vary but may include being obedient to the Lord, breaking strongholds, making an important decision, preparing for a ministry or upcoming outreach, praying for another person’s salvation or healing, or reigniting your relationship with the Lord.
Lent is symbolic of Jesus’s 40 days and nights in the desert where He fasted and prayed to prepare for His ministry on earth (Matthew 4:1-11). Regardless of the reason, physical fasting should always be coupled with spiritual feasting with the Lord – more time and connection with Him.
Fasting without prayer is self-denial accomplished in the flesh, an asceticism steeped in works-based religion that gives way to pessimism about God. Fasting with prayer is self-denial accomplished by the Spirit, a Christian hedonism steeped in grace-based relationship that gives way to more joy in God.
Fasting isn’t about our will power but about following His will and experiencing His power.
What to fast?
Traditionally, fasting involves abstaining from some type of food. However, in today’s culture, fasting from social media or Netflix or any other type of distraction and replacing it with prayer and God’s Word may be even more impactful to you.
If you are thinking, “I’ll give up anything but that one thing,” then that one thing is probably what you should forgo. It may be the primary offender lobbying for first place in your heart.
The goal is to want Jesus more than what we are giving up.
God won’t ask you to give up something for Lent that would conflict with any of His other commandments. For instance, He’s not going to ask you to abstain from evangelism or church or an annoying co-worker or relative. Lent should be used as a tool to help us walk in His commandments, to love God and others more fully.
What we give up shouldn’t be self-serving to meet a physical goal. If you decide to give up sugar for Lent, for example, don’t do it because your primary motivation is to lose weight. Lent is a reminder to deny yourself and follow Jesus, choosing His will over your will, which will ultimately lead to lasting pleasure.
The heart motivation for Lent should be what we are offering to the Lord, not what we expect to get in return. What we give up for Lent isn’t really as important as why we are giving it up.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
Lent is about choosing holy habits over habits that put holes in your soul.
I get a bit concerned when I read things like, "Give up anger or critical words" for Lent. While we should want to empty ourselves of those sins to more accurately reflect God's image and become holy as He is holy, we can't do it in our own strength. It's short circuiting the Gospel to say you can just give up sin without taking up the cross of Christ.
We must abide in Jesus so that we can ask forgiveness for sin and allow Him to work in our hearts to bear the Holy Spirit fruit of patience, kindness and the likes. This reflection should stir in your heart a spirit of repentance, asking God to forgive you for seeking something over Him and asking for the strength and desire to want Him more.
Lent lessens our load by rightly prioritizing our lives and giving valuable insight during a time of introspection. Who and what are really most important? Why do I default to this habit instead of defaulting to the Lord?
Lent isn’t about guilt or punishment. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). It is about turning our hearts to Jesus, to fall into the loving arms of a Savior who gave His life for your life.
Lent should lead us to more fully realize the love of Christ
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from Me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30).
By participating in Lent, we give ourselves a needed reminder of our own frailty, dependence and selfishness. We seek to shift those dependencies from weakness of the flesh to the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Paul reminds us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
The inverse of that verse, then, is also true. Whether you fast from a particular food or drink or entertainment or habit, you should do it all for the glory of God. Remember, Lent is not about gaining God’s approval but gaining more of Him.
How to prepare for Lent
Ask the Lord to give you a hunger and thirst to connect with Him through prayer, fasting, Bible reading and fellowship with other believers. Ask that He open the eyes of your heart to the meaning of His Word and how to apply it to your life today.
READ SCRIPTURE DAILY:
The Gospels are the best place to read about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Replace whatever you are giving up with Scripture reading and practical application. Don’t try to depend on sheer will power to accomplish Lent, because then it will become works based and ineffective.
Jesus tell us that man cannot live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Nothing can replace reading from the Bible directly. These books will each have a different perspective as documented by the authors but will provide a robust and authentic account of Jesus’ days on earth.
Recommended Gospel reading during Lent
Reading these verses each day, beginning on Ash Wednesday through Easter, will take you through the pertinent Gospel passages leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection.
Matthew 26 – 28 (read 4 verses each day)
Mark 14 - 16 (read 4 verses each day)
Luke 22 - 24 (read 5 verses each day)
John 12 - 21 (read 8 verses each day)
Recommended Devotional Reading for Adults
On Calvary's Hill: 40 Readings for the Easter Season by Max Lucado
These short, daily devotionals dive deep into Scripture to lead you to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Culled from the wealth of twenty centuries, the selections in Bread and Wine are ecumenical in scope, and represent the best classic and contemporary Christian writers. Includes more than seventy Lenten and Easter readings.
Preparing for Easter devotional by C.S. Lewis
A slow read to savor for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Together in one special volume, selections from the best of beloved bestselling author C. S. Lewis’s classic works for readers contemplating the "grand miracle" of Jesus’s resurrection.
Recommended Activities for Family
The Easter Story Egg: This interactive book helps children understand the Easter story and reminds them of God’s love. Every day between Palm Sunday and Easter (April 5 – 12), you and your children will discover a new egg and story leading to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Resurrection Eggs: Send your children (and teenagers) on a hunt that will lead them to the treasure of Easter. Read the story together, open each egg and find the surprise inside – a symbol of Jesus’ journey to the cross.
Empty Tomb cookies: This interactive baking experience tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection by reading Scripture with each ingredient. You also get to experience the joy of Sunday morning, when you unseal the "tomb" (oven) and enjoy the cookies that are hollow inside, remembering that Jesus is not there, He is risen!
What Every Child Should Know about Prayer by Nancy Guthrie
While not written for Lent or Easter preparation, this book lends insight into the importance of prayer, a vital part of not only preparing your heart for Easter but maintaining a vibrant connection and relationship with Jesus.
Because of Jesus: A Lent & Easter Season Family Devotional: Each week before Easter, your family will enjoy a short, Scripture-filled devotional on the day of your choosing. This six-part guide explains the purpose of Lent and provides practical ways to prepare your heart before Easter, through Scripture reading, memorization, discussion questions and a call to action of how to apply these Gospel truths.