Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Three R's of Giving Up Something for Lent

"But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).

A father urged his children to move beyond giving up candy for Lent to giving up some habit of sin.  About halfway through the season he asked the children how they were doing.  One of his young sons had promised to give up fighting with his brothers and sisters.  When his father asked him how it was going, he said, "I'm doing pretty good, Dad, but boy I can't wait until Easter!"*

One part of Lent is to consider giving up something, going without it between now and Easter: a favorite food or drink, eating out, a TV show, video games - or one of many other things.  You get to pick.  The only requirement is that you will miss it.  You may not be able to spend forty days fasting in the desert, but you could go forty days without dessert.

On a different level, you could choose to work on giving up a habit, a habit you know is not serving your Christian faith and life, a habit you know has got to go.  There is no better time for this than Lent, on the way to Holy Week and Easter.

Either way, whether chocolate or that habit, here are the three R's of giving up something for Lent.

Restrain.  Learn with God's help to restrain yourself and your desires.  Giving up something teaches and exercises self-restraint or self-control.  Paul names self-control as the ninth and last fruit of the Spirit.  And he writes these instructive words in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13:

"I will not be enslaved by anything.  Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food - and God will destroy both one and the other.  The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."

Living in a permissive society, we must learn to restrain ourselves, say no to ourselves, and practice self-control.  Giving up something helps impart that discipline.

Replace.  Replace the something you're giving up with some additional devotion.  It could be additional time in God's Word and prayer.  It could be additional time spent with your spouse and family.  It could be visiting the hospital or nursing home.  (Ask your pastor for the name and place of a person.)  I met a woman who's going to walk a hundred miles this Lent, 2.5 miles each of the forty days, and treat it as a pilgrimage and time for prayer.  What will you do?  With God, giving up something always means receiving something.

Remember.  This is the key.  Use your giving up to remember God the Father "who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32).  Use your giving up to remember the Son who gave up His place in heaven and His life on the cross.  Use your giving up to remember the Holy Spirit.  Now what does the Holy Spirit give up?  Answer: The Holy Spirit gives up...on no one!  Remember this.  Remember this when you stumble in the course of giving up that habit.  Do not lose heart!  Remember the God who loves you!

Restrain.  Replace.  Remember.

As a rule, keep your giving up to yourself.  Exceptions to the rule would be spouses and families.  Parents will need to work with children.  Also you could talk with your pastor.

May God bless our giving up this Lent and lead us to Easter joys!

*Credit for this story goes to Rev. Lawrence E. Mick.