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The Promise of Lent

While many of us may have been more aware of Valentine’s Day

this week, another significant day quietly preceded it: Ash Wednesday. In the

church’s liturgical calendar, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day

season of spiritual preparation before Easter that has historically involved

fasting and prayer as we intentionally seek to reflect upon Jesus’ sacrifice on

our behalf.

I grew up in a small, independent Bible church, and Lent was

not a spiritual practice that we observed. Until I got married and joined my

wife at her Presbyterian church nine years ago, I’d never had much experience with

Lent. Since then I’ve come to appreciate this annual opportunity to yield

something that my heart (and, sometimes, my body) hungers for to God, for the

purpose of drawing more closely to Him.

Observing Lent has traditionally involved abstaining from

certain foods, such as meat in the Catholic tradition, for instance. In more

recent decades, some Christians have broadened the scope of Lenten fasting to

include abstaining from anything that our hearts or bodies fixate upon or seek

to find satisfaction in. The goal, then, becomes one of yielding a particular

appetite to God and inviting Him into the void that abstaining from that thing


I’ve fasted from various things over the years, usually

related to some particular appetite. A couple of years ago, my wife and I gave

up Starbucks for Lent. (That was a tough year!) More recently, I’ve gravitated

toward giving up something related to technology and media, since those things

can seep so easily into every available crevice of my life, it seems.

This year, I’m giving up visiting one of my favorite

websites for Lent (a guitar oriented website, if you must know). And while that

may not seem a huge sacrifice, frankly, I go there too much, and I’m

occasionally aware that it reinforces my already strong materialistic impulses.

In moments where I might ordinarily take a quick “break” to see what’s

happening on that forum, I’m trying to talk to God and ask Him to fill me

instead of looking for something in the world to try to accomplish that


It turns out that I’m not alone in my 21st-century

approach to Lent. Since 2009, the social networking site Twitter (of all things!)

has kept track of what its members say they are relinquishing. The 2013 Twitter

Lent Tracker gathered information from more than a quarter of a million tweets

last week, and among the top 10 responses, there were some that were obviously

sarcastic (being pope, virginity) but a number of other ones that are likely

earnest Lenten resolutions, such as fasting from soda, social networking, alcohol, junk food,

fast food, Instagram, sweets, chocolate and smoking, among many others in the

100-item list.

While I think there’s real benefit in such fasts, whether

during a season such as Lent or simply because we feel convicted to cut back on

something, I also think we need to be clear about our motivations and what we

are hoping to accomplish.

Whatever we choose to abstain from during Lent doesn’t make

us more holy or acceptable to God. I think the real value of such a fast, be it

from food or anything else we have an appetite for, is that we begin to cultivate

a deeper sense of how much we rely on whatever we’ve given up to fill us, to

satisfy us, to help us cope or to give us hope.

These fasts, then, don’t make us more “saintly.” They may

not even make us become disciplined or self-controlled (though, perhaps they

might help in that area — another discussion for another time). Instead, they force

us into a posture of dependence upon God as we begin to

experience more viscerally how much we need Him and how we often choose something

other than Him to try to fill that hungry space inside all of us. 

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About the Author

Adam Holz
Adam Holz

Adam R. Holz has served as an editor and writer for Plugged In for 20 years. He also spent a decade working for The Navigators, mostly as associate editor for Discipleship Journal. Adam is the author of the NavPress Bible Study “Beating Busyness.” Adam and his wife, Jennifer, have three children and enjoy watching movies, playing board games and playing music together.

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