Preaching About Giving Something Up For Lent
Preaching About Giving Something Up For Lent
In the last post, we began an examination of how to make your preaching in Lent impactful. Today let’s look at preaching about giving something up for lent as part of your plan for this season.
The History of Giving Something Up For Lent
In the ancient Roman Catholic Church the period leading up to Easter was a time of preparation for new believers. On Easter there would be a baptismal service celebrating the faith of the new believers, but prior to that there would be a time of “purification and enlightenment”. A large part of that preparation would involve fasting, the voluntary limitation of food for a specified period of time.
Fasting was intended to remind the people that they had a tendency to let things other than God get priority in life. Fasting was a corrective to this tendency. Here’s how Phil Ressler puts it in a blog post for his church:
While the idea of fasting involves taking something away, it is ultimately about more of God. Fasting in its purest form involves foregoing food for a certain period of time. This will lead to a hunger in our stomach which has an ultimate purpose of connecting us with our hunger for God. The time you might have spent preparing a meal and eating the meal can now be spent feasting on God’s Word. In other words, spend the time you would have spent eating by reading the Bible and praying. Jesus says, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Giving up something else for Lent
You have an opportunity in preaching about giving something up for Lent to explore other things people can give up, rather than food. The idea of fasting gradually morphed over a period of time to giving up something else, other than a meal or meals. In other words, rather than give up a meal, you could give up chocolate, or coffee. These voluntary acts of giving up something you enjoy would be a reminder to focus on what Jesus gave up for us. It would be a reminder to focus on the things of God rather than on your own selfishness.
What To Encourage People to Give Up for Lent
So, in your preaching for Lent, what can you encourage people to give up that will be meaningful for their remembrance of Jesus’ suffering on their behalf? Here are some ideas that may enrich this season for your people.
Something that gets in the way of a relationship with God.
Lent is a good time to remind people that there is nothing more important than their relationship with God. Jesus said that if there is something between us and God, we should give it up. Hear these words from Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Jesus, most commentators agree, was not asking us to literally pluck our eyes out or cut off our hands, because sin’s origin is in our hearts, not our bodies. The principle that he is laying down here is that we should cut out those things that separate us from God.
What are those things? Each individual will have to decide this. It could be a relationship that you will give up in order to come closer to God. A possession that you value too highly could be getting in the way of focusing on God. Or give a generous gift somewhere because you realize that you are valuing your money too much.
Things That Help You Focus On God
The other category of things you could encourage your congregation to give up are reminders. These things remind us to focus our thoughts on God during this season. The kinds of things that most people give up are things like Facebook, or all social media. The time normally spent in these pursuits is instead given to prayer and study of the Bible.
Others give up something like coffee. When they would normally have their favorite beverage, they instead engage in conversation with God. Another person gives up breakfast, and another lunch. Instead of eating, the time is given to focussing on the most important thing in life. our relationship with God.
Here’s a fun video of kids at St. Gregory Catholic School talking about what they are going to give up for Lent. Some of them really have caught the idea.