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This blog is an excerpt from the editorial in Reformed Worship #90. 

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as Lent—at least not in my church. We did know about Palm Sunday. That was the day the Sunday school kids made palm branches out of paper, though we didn’t do the whole processional with palms that is so common today. And of course we went to church on Good Friday and Easter. But I didn’t hear of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and the Easter Vigil until my college years.

At first I thought those were simply foreign-sounding Roman Catholic observances. Then I learned that churches across the denominational spectrum celebrate many, if not all, of these holy days. But there’s one practice that I still find puzzling: the practice of “giving something up” for Lent.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am all for spiritual practices and discipline. I’m just not sure that the act of giving up chocolate or TV for Lent can draw us closer to God in and of itself. Laurence Hull Stookey puts it best when he writes: “Lenten disciplines are not temporary deletions or additions, but spiritual exercises that permanently alter us” (Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, Abingdon Press, 1996).

This Lenten season I encourage you to challenge yourself and your congregation to think more deeply about your Lenten observance. Instead of asking what you can give up for Lent, consider what stands in the way of a closer walk with God.

Do you need to turn the TV off in order to spend more time in prayer and Scripture reading? Then by all means limit your TV viewing and replace it with devotional time; don’t simply replace it with more computer time. Is food an emotional crutch that you rely on more than Christ? Then work on changing that reality. In other words, whatever we choose ought to bring us closer to Christ himself.

But there is more. Christ gave himself up for others, and in order for us to truly draw near to him we must be willing to do the same. During Lent, think about what practices will help bring about Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Are there people with whom you need to be reconciled? Is there a way to promote justice in your community? Are there opportunities to serve the poor, the widow, and the orphan?

Asking these kinds of questions will lead us to practices that result in the deep spiritual change intended by Lenten observances. Spiritual change may be supported through congregational worship, but it needs the traction of daily living to truly take root.

So this year don’t challenge your congregation to simply “give something up” for Lent. Instead, challenge them to give more of themselves to Christ by finding one or two ways in which their life can more fully emulate his. Hopefully these will become habits that don’t end with Easter but continue to sustain them throughout the year.


I agree that Lent rituals alone do not bring us closer to God. I do think that they can be a time of re-establishing or establishing perhaps for the first time spiritual disciplines that help us grow closer to God.

We've made a start in our church by talking briefly about Lent, stressing that it is a time of drawing closer to God, reflection on his sacrifice and preparation for Easter. As part of that reflection we have suggested people might want to give up something that would be a sacrifice for them. We've added a second part to that and suggested that people collect or save up the money they would have spent to give to an offering for CRWRC Free the Family. We chose this cause because it gives us a way to help the poor. This also works across the generations so we are able to challenge everyone from child to senior. I hope in the future that we can develop this concept a bit more.

I agree. In today's society, we place a huge emphasis on what are we going to "give up." Often, I've seen people give up things that they already don't do! That way they can say they have given up something.

I like the idea of adding a spiritual discipline during the lent season. Perhaps your life is busy, then take some time for solitude. Maybe you need to revitalize your prayer life, then work on the spiritual discipline of prayer this season! By doing this, we can work on establishing a spiritual rhythm to carry on throughout the rest of the year!

Maybe it shouldn't be about giving something up.   Maybe it should be about starting something, or adding something.  Like doubling your prayer time.   Or reading three chapters of scripture every day instead of just a devotional guide.   Or telling at least one new person every week about Christ.  Or inviting at least one new person every week to a worship service.  Or memorizing a spiritual song or a passage of scripture.   Or spending two weeks on a mission at home or abroad, or in soup kitchen, where you can also do some of the inviting and telling as above. 


Who knows, maybe remembering Christ's sacrifice in this way will help us to start new habits! 

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