It’s that time of year when people think about what to give up for Lent. Maybe you’re thinking about giving something up too?
In the run up to Easter, many people like to observe the period of Lent by giving up a luxury or pausing a practice or habit in their life. You’re probably aware of Lent even if you’ve not given something up since you were a child.
In this mini guide we look at why the period is important, whether we should still observe Lent today and if you do choose to mark Lent in some way, what you could give up.
What is Lent?
Lent is a period of religious observance that typically takes place in the 40 days leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday and ends on Maundy Thursday around six weeks later.
That said, the exact dates and customs do differ from denomination to denomination. The last week of Lent coincides with Holy Week, so many believers will use this to spend time in God’s presence.
But Lent isn’t just observed by Christians. In many countries it has also been adopted as a cultural practice and a helpful discipline. Many people enjoy the challenge of giving something up for 40 days.
The origin of Lent though is very much rooted in Christian tradition. It commemorates the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, which is chronicled in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. This was before He began His public ministry, when Jesus was tested by and defied the Devil.
Why do Christians celebrate Lent?
So beyond commemorating this pivotal time in the life of Jesus, why do Christians observe a period of fasting or giving things up during Lent?
Well, there’s a biblical precedent of denying ourselves to follow Jesus as it says in Matthew 16:24: “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This doesn’t mean we have to deny our bodies every want and desire we have but rather that being a follower of Jesus means giving our all to Him.
Other things can easily take the place of God in our life. They’re not bad things necessarily, they just have more power than they should have. Anyone feel like they spending too much time on social media or drinking too much coffee?
Giving these things up can be difficult if they play a big role in your daily life. But the Easter story can give us hope and something to look forward to. The Passion of Christ was a tragedy, but it was followed by the resurrection. In the same way this season of loss precedes a season of celebration.
Lent can also be used to prepare for Easter. Removing certain luxuries from our life can mean giving more time to God and preparing our hearts for the good news. After all, when Jesus rose from the dead, we got back more than we could imagine. In John 11:25-26, Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Do Christians have to celebrate Lent?
Before we look at specific things to give up for Lent, we’re going to look at whether it is required for Christians.
How we observe Lent often depends on the denomination or church tradition we’re a part of. The truth is, it’s not something you have to do as a Christian. There’s no command in the Bible to observe Lent and you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about not giving anything up during these 40 days.
Still, many believers recognise the benefits of Lent. They might even look forward to giving up something they know is taking up too much of their time, energy or devotion.
For other Christians it’s a very structured part of their year and they take it very seriously. Others will say that doing it for the sake of it or because you feel you must, are reasons to not do it at all. After all, you can fast and give things up at any time of the year. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision that you can share with others or keep between you and God.
If you choose to share your fast, talking about giving something up for Lent is an easy conversation starter with non-Christian friends. It’s an opportunity to share the importance of your faith and the real reason why we observe it.
Things to give up for Lent
OK, so what could you give up for Lent? If you’re looking for some inspiration, you’re in the right place.
This article lists the most common things people give up for Lent, including chocolate, alcohol, fizzy drinks and more. You probably won’t be surprised by a lot of these – they are often picked because they’re unhealthy and addictive.
Maybe there are areas of your life that you intentionally want to get a handle on? This period might be a great time to do that. Social media can be addictive and giving it up can not only help you exercise self-control but also free up some time. You might want to do the same thing with TV or gaming.
Matthew 6:21 says “where your treasure is there your heart is also”. It might be that you’ve given your heart to something that doesn’t give you lasting fulfilment. God wants to be our treasure and sometimes we must make space for God to take His rightful place.
You could also do a regular fast, like Jesus did. The challenge with this is not doing it to appear religious. Earlier in Matthew 6, Jesus teaches that we are not make it obvious that we are fasting because “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Matt. 6:16-18)
Focus on God during Lent
Ultimately, whatever you give up for Lent, the focus should always be on God not on ourselves or others. As Christians, Lent is a great time to strengthen our relationship with God and walk more in step with the plans and purposes He has for us.
If you’re giving something up and you want a structured way of staying in the word and committing to daily prayer and Bible reading, you should check out the Glorify app. It’s a great companion for this period of Lent in the run-up to Easter.