The secret of Lent

This week, in small group, we studied Zechariah. It’s an interesting book that tells the story of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. It goes along with several other books detailing the exile and return.

In one section of the book, chapter 7, the story talks about fasting. It asks if the mourning and fasting are done for God. Zechariah then reminds them that they eat and celebrate for themselves. So, the ritual periods of mourning and fasting were hollow—done to draw attention to themselves.

I thought about Lent as I was reading this.

Too often, we wait for God in the darkness, in the sadness and mourning. Yet, we exclude him from our celebrations. We beat ourselves up over our pasts and our sins then we celebrate with friends and don’t give praise. God wants to be there in the good and the bad.

I love Lent, but it is not a requirement. Few things are actual requirements, but the fasting and mourning of Lent is certainly not God’s expectation of us. The message of chapter 7 is that fasting should be about dwelling on God’s promise to us, not on mourning for our past.

Lent should be about developing good new habits. Fasting, if you fast, should be about taking on things to develop a more spiritual life.

Think of it this way. You would not say “for Lent, I am going to give up smoking crack” or “I am going to give up adultery for 40 days.” You shouldn’t sacrifice things you shouldn’t be doing in the first place. If you give up something at all, it should be instructional.

I gave up coffee a while back. I doubt I would do that again, but it was a positive thing. Coffee is not a sin, it is a beverage. However, I was drinking too much coffee and it was having a negative impact on my health. By giving it up for 40 days, I wasn’t merely sacrificing something I should have better control over, I was developing a new habit. I was becoming consciously aware of the amount of time and money I was spending on coffee and—when Lent was over—I was able to regulate my intake to better levels.

We’re more than halfway through Lent now. A lot of people have probably given up on their goals for the season. That’s pretty common. It’s never too late to develop a better habit or two. For the remainder of Lent, even if you don’t normally participate, focus on obedience. Spend some time with God in prayer.

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