I have a lot of problems with how the world works. One of the biggest ones is that violence, or the threat of it, is the best motivator for individuals in our effort to live “good lives.” That, with the threat of imprisonment or some sort punishment, we are likely to act correctly. We’ll get fired if we don’t work well enough. We’ll get a ticket if we drive too fast. You won’t get dessert if you don’t clean your room. You’ll get an F if you don’t do your homework. So you can see how we sometimes use punishment as a way of modifying behavior.
Thought of a different way. We’ll get better insurance rates if we drive well. We’ll get a raise if we work harder. We’ll get two cookies if we do the dishes. You’ll get an A if you do your homework. Punishment and even rewards can be false motivators for getting things done, but I do think that’s a really hard mentality to break out of.
Jesus tries to get us there. Life in Him is endless, there won’t be death. We’ve already won the battle and if we keep the faith, there’s nothing we can do to jeopardize that.
So if Christ already did the work that saves, and I am recreated into a new being that’s following him and bringing the Kingdom of God here, what’s the deal with Lent? Why don’t I just operate out of the joy and new life that Jesus gives me? Why would I bother walking with Jesus through the desert, fasting as he fasted. If the work is already done, and I am redeemed no matter what, what should I bother “giving up” something or “taking something on?” Why should I inflict suffering on myself? What’s the point?
There’s the same logic again. If I am guaranteed a reward, why would I cause myself any sort of suffering? It’s not going to make my reward better is it? It’s not going to make the cookies sweeter, right?
It’s like telling a kid that you are going to get a cookie no matter what you do, and even if they do the right thing—if they are polite and don’t talkback and do their dishes and clean their room—they choose not to enjoy the cookie, which is now something that they are entitled to!
Why would someone abstain on purpose?
One of the biggest reasons that I choose to sacrifice something for Lent is because it reinvigorates my sense of frailty as a human, my neediness and weakness as an individual, and makes me incredible sensitive, emotionally and spiritually.
One reason we fast is to know what tempts us. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted. And of course, he’s tempted to live off of more than what God gives him, since he can just generate wealth for himself. He’s tempted to live a destructive lifestyle since he’ll never die. And furthermore, he’s tempted to become the emperor himself. Jesus is tempted by some of the same things that we are. And through his fasting he discovers that about himself and we can do the same.
When I’ve fasted in the past, I’ve typically deprived myself of food and sleep. And as many of you know, going without food, can make you pretty irritable. Once we get past the fact that it’s not everyone else that’s bothering us, and it’s not really the withdrawal either, we get to an incredibly sensitive place where we can really get to know who we are, and we can rely on God more to change us. It can be hard, of course, to go without things we’ve become very accustomed to, so take Sundays off and look forward to that relief if the going gets hard.
It’s OK to choose something to give up or something to take on that’s going to really stress you out. That’s going to make you familiar again with your weakness.
Paul, when writing to the Corinthians for the second time, mentioned his weakness—a weakness that God kept with him—so that he would fully know that power of God’s love and grace. We are weak, frail people, whose completeness and fullness is made in Christ. He is the only thing we should boast of. So, this Lenten season, get to a place where you are sensitive enough to rely only on God, and to know where your human weaknesses are.
It can be easy to use Lent as an excuse to go on a diet, or to practice some sort of restraint that we should practice anyway—granted that might be very hard for you and you might grow through your struggle, so I don’t want to belittle whatever it is you chose to sacrifice (if anything at all! And of course it’s not too late to start!) I think trying to do anything at all is honorable and I think you should run with it.
And in your discipline this year, you might struggle with basic human needs, and there might be a great way of out them. When you are limiting yourself, you may actually need to rely on God more. In your weakness, his provision for you, his will for you, his power is made perfect.