March 2016

Lent

According to OpenBible.info (a website that tracks references to the Bible on Twitter and Facebook), the most common things Christians say they are giving up for Lent this year are:

  1. Chocolate
  2. Social Networking
  3. Alcohol
  4. Twitter
  5. Facebook
  6. School
  7. Meat
  8. Sweets
  9. Coffee
  10. Fizzy drinks

Now, we can’t take this sort of thing too seriously (apparently 0.6% of people say they are giving up Jesus for Lent – this is social media after all).  From my own conversations with people, I think the most common I’ve heard this year are (in no particular order):

  • Chocolate
  • Biscuits
  • Alcohol
  • Tea / coffee

I think that list probably doesn’t change much year-on-year – I wonder what that says about the effectiveness of giving them up?

Jess and I have given up drinking alcohol on weekdays, and ordering Domino’s pizza (a hangover from my bachelor days), and I am trying to be more disciplined about doing daily exercise.  We are also working through a book called Reflections for Lent 2016.  It is published by the Church of England and contains a short reflection on one of the lectionary readings for each day during Lent.

(Believe it or not, the Church of England has also published the book as an app, available for iOS and Android devices.  It’s not too late to start – you can download a podcast, find links to the apps, order the book for Kindle, or if you are old-fashioned like us, a book made of paper here: https://www.chpublishing.co.uk/features/reflections-for-lent.)

The thing to remember about giving things up for Lent, is that it’s not about losing weight.  I wonder if sometimes we give things up for the six weeks of Lent, not for spiritual reasons, but because we want to lose some of the extra weight we put on by eating too much at Christmas.  Lent then becomes a second chance at doing that New Year’s Resolution that didn’t make it past the end of January.  But it should be much more than that.

So, we should all examine the motivation behind our Lenten fasts.  If you have given something up because you want to diet, then perhaps the following will help.

If you have given up food or drink, then use those cravings for spiritual good: when you feel them, pray.  You could say a short prayer, use the six weeks to memorise a Bible verse, you could sit in silence and focus on Jesus resisting the devil in the wilderness.  You could sit quietly and ask God to bring someone to mind that you could pray for, picture them in your mind’s eye, and then simply ask God to bless them.

If you have given up a behaviour or attitude, then make sure you pray at the start and end of every day, asking God to help you watch what you say and do, and then thanking him for his presence with you.

Lent is about training ourselves in godliness, and it works exactly like exercise.  As I told the Thursday morning congregation, I couldn’t run a marathon tomorrow.  No way.  But if I spent the next year running regularly, starting with half a mile and building up bit by bit, then my muscles, my lungs and my mind would eventually learn how to run 26 miles and 385 yards.

And that’s how godliness works too.  If we train ourselves to be disciplined in small things – in resisting temptation, in praying regularly – then our spiritual muscles will grow and develop, so that when we meet a tougher challenge, we can face it stronger in our faith and character.

And that is a proper motivation for Lent – let losing weight be a bonus, not the main aim!

Ben Green