I grew up attending Southern Baptist churches. I became a Pastor in the Baptist tradition. I didn’t know what Lent was until I was in my early twenties and someone from a mainline denominational background joined our church.

She shared with me that she’d given up chocolate for Lent, which raised three important questions in my mind.

  1. How did you give up chocolate?
  2. What is Lent?
  3. Why would you give up chocolate?

Lent isn’t just a “giving things up” thing for Christians. Rather, it’s a season of the annual church year in which we watch, through the gospel accounts in the Bible, as Jesus moves through his earthly ministry toward the cross on which he would die his sacrificial death for the world.

It’s cool in that it helps us to learn more about Jesus’ life and ministry, which kind of kicked off with his 40-day journey into the wilderness for fasting and prayer, after which he faced great temptation. (We humans tend to get really weak after not eating anything including chocolate for that long.)

I wrote some notes about what we can learn from Jesus about overcoming temptation over on my website for church leaders, but here at Walk Humble I want to share some thoughts about Lent and Ash Wednesday for fellow strugglers like myself who can barely think about giving up chocolate for 40 days, much less taking up our crosses and following the Way of Jesus completely and wholeheartedly.

In one of the greatest speeches ever given, the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus flipped conventional thinking upside down over and over. He would remind people about the ethical systems they’d learned in the past (“you’ve heard it said…”) and then challenge them to actually take those values seriously (“but I say to you…”).

In the early part of the sermon, he talks about humility and choosing to be poor in spirit rather than arrogant and self-assured. He talked about anger and hate, love and light, marriage and divorce, and more. On each point, he challenges us to bypass the bare minimum requirements for being a halfway decent human being and instead strive to create a world where we really lay down our selfish interests and look out, instead, for the interests of other people.

Near the end of the sermon, he tells us to stop judging people harshly and coldly. He gave us the golden rule about treating others as we wish to be treated. And he closed by challenging us to apply his teachings daily.

Sandwiched in the middle of the message are Jesus’ thoughts about acts of religious devotion. Prayer. Meditation. Confession. Almsgiving. Worship. The “disciplines” of the Christian life, if you will.

He didn’t tell us how to do each one of these things. He didn’t give us a list of God’s rules for proper prayer and the words you can or can’t say. Instead, he gave us one big idea to live out.

Do these things for God, and for you, not for others.

When you pray, don’t use the moment to look cool and holy. Just have a private moment with God and talk things out.

When you give, don’t show off your generosity with a giant cardboard check. Just give a piece of your life to something that breaks your heart and make a difference quietly.

When you fast, don’t brag about it or accentuate your malnourished look. Just do it for the sake of your own relationship with God.

I don’t think Jesus meant you should never pray publicly or give in a way that might inspire others. I think Jesus’ point is that what really matters is what is happening in the deep inner recesses of your heart where your true motives and intentions live.

Way too much of what we do in life is for the sake of keeping up the image of ourselves we want others to see. But if you really want to get to the heart of God, let God really get to your heart, where you are the real you. Unfiltered. Unmasked. Uncovered.

So this Lenten season, decide to stop doing something for a while so you can develop your self-discipline muscle. But do it for you, not for them. Lay it down for 40 days (and technically Lent is 40 weekdays – you get the weekends to rest) so that you can grow personally and spiritually.

You don’t have to practice self-discipline alone. In fact, millions are celebrating Lent starting with Ash Wednesday. But Jesus taught us, by example and in his sermons, that there is deep, personal reward for drawing away from our daily concerns and addictions to draw nearer to the heart of God.

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.