Right and Wrong Reasons for Giving up Something for Lent

There are right reasons to fast and there are wrong reasons

We are fast approaching the season of Lent and it will be here before you know. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which is March 5. We will be hosting Ash Wednesday Worship at 7pm at Good Shepherd and we would love to have you join us. We are working on putting together an unique interactive experience for all participants.

It is a tradition during the season of Lent for many people to “give something up.” You may very likely practice this tradition yourself. Some examples of the things people give up include chocolate, alcohol, smoking, television, and Facebook. There are lots of different reasons people have for giving something up for Lent. As with many practices there are some good reasons to do it and then there are some not-so-good of reasons to do it. Here are some of the not-so-good reasons:

1. Because it’s tradition

There are many good traditions in the church. Most every tradition is begun for a good reason. But there often comes a time when we lose the connection with the purpose of the tradition and we continue the tradition for the sake of the tradition. If you are not sure what the purpose of the tradition is, then it may be time to stop the tradition or at the least go back and re-examine the origins.

2. It helps me relate to the suffering of Jesus

Many believe that making a sacrifice will help them better relate to the sufferings of Jesus. But if you think this through, does giving up Facebook for Lent even begin to come close to helping you relate to the suffering Jesus went through? We are totally missing the point. Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice. His suffering was brutal. The idea of giving up 1st world luxuries to help us relate to the suffering he endured is laughable at best and mockery at worst.

3. To help me feel better about myself

For some giving up something for Lent is a way to kick a bad habit. Lent serves as a catalyst for living a healthier and more balanced life. It might serve to help you eat better or make better use of your time. All that is commendable and God wants us to be good stewards of our lives. But this still falls short of the fuller Lenten experience.

So what is the point then? Why would I give something up for Lent?

The whole idea behind giving something up is called FASTING. Fasting is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, Bible reading, and worship. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “when you fast …” He didn’t say, “if you fast …” There was an expectation his followers would fast. But it is an often overlooked discipline in the church. And because we don’t often teach about it, there is great misunderstanding about it.

So here are some reasons why we do fast or “give something up for Lent”:

1. More of God

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). We realize our food and everything else we have comes from God. If God did not provide it, we would not have it (see John 6:68–69). We eliminate that which we think we need for that which we truly need.

2. Removing barriers

Another important aspect of fasting is cutting out that which is hindering our relationship with God. There is nothing more important in this world than our relationship with him. Yet, we allow so many other things to get in the way. In last Sunday’s message we heard Jesus say, “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Matthew 5:29–30). The principle applies here is that we eliminate that which separates us from God. There are many things in life we think we cannot do without, but Jesus says only one thing is needful (Matthew 10:41–42).

3. Re-centering

Finally, fasting has a way of centering us and reminding us what is most important. We have a lot of competing priorities in life. We don’t fast for God’s sake. It is a discipline given to us for our benefit. Fasting points us to what is most important. It helps us to keep the first things the first things. This is why we see the early church enter a time of fasting prior to making a big decisions (see Acts 13:2–3; 14:23). Fasting helps us better discern God’s priorities for life and ministry.

So how about you? What are some of the reasons you fast or “give something up” during Lent? Make sure to share in the comments below.

Next week I will be sharing some ideas of things to give up for Lent. Hint, hint: They may not be what you think!

God’s blessings,
Pastor Phil


  1. says

    Good grief, you hit the nail on the head. I give up something for lent( and usually fail midway through) because of tradition, to sacrifice for Jesus’s suffering, pretty much everything you listed.I’ve been gearing up to give up sweets this lenten season b/c i have an sweet tooth and lack discipline. I was thinking that this lenten season can help me with discipline and when i am tempted to stop and think of Jesus. I guess i have it all wrong. Looking forward to your suggestions.

  2. says

    Sometimes instead of fasting for lent, I add something. For me this sometimes does more to add more of God to my life and recenter, than any fasting “thing” I can think of. In the past I have tried adding an hour of prayer a week to my schedule (a mere 10 minutes a day), I have added Bible or Lenten study groups or services, or I have added alms and practical giving to neighbors and those in need (like a night a week at the soup kitchen or homeless shelter). Just wondering how you feel about the “opposite” tradition of adding instead of fasting to move us closer to Christ. Do you believe Lent is a good time to take this approach?

    • says

      You are on to the purpose of fasting. For everything new we add in our life, we need to take something away. We cannot endlessly fill our lives with new things. Part of the idea of fasting is to use the time that I would have normally spent seeking to fill my stomach with food and use it for seeking God. You say no to one thing, to say yes to a better thing. So many people miss that second part that fasting is not just about giving something up.

  3. Kaitlin says

    I was always taught that, if you don’t give something up, you can replace that if you do something in the name of God. My freshman year at a Catholic university, I did Alternative Spring Break. We went with Habitat for Humanity to go down to New Orleans and help clean up after Katrina. I did this instead of ‘giving something up’ for Lent because helping others made me feel closer to God and felt good about helping others and doing it in His name since I went with our Campus Ministry group. That can also work instead of “adding something” or “giving something up”

    • Sean says

      Although, couldn’t it be that you gave up a spring break in Miami for “spring break” serving in New Orleans? Giving up something and replacing it with something better, like Pastor Phil said?

  4. says

    If you’re interested in a drama and Bible study along this line, may I suggest “The Sacrifice Support Group” and “Giving It Up for Lent”? They were developed for a Lent program my local ecumenical church group put on a few years ago. We found a bit of humor (in the Readers Theatre play) helped our group take a fresh look at the “selfish sacrifices” we’d been making by rote every Lent.

  5. Judy says

    I fast every Monday during Lent. Most of the day I spend in Bible study. I was given a new study Bible and have saved it just for this special time. It really helps me concentrate on what is important when I am not distracted by food!

  6. says

    Over Lent instead of giving up I decied to give to those less fortunate, providing food for food pantrys that feed the homeless and provide time for someone in need. I find this much more fulfilling than “giving up”

  7. Tara says

    I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
    But this article, and the several others I have read about Lent and fasting in general have helped me a tremendous amount. They’re clearly written, Scripturally backed, and come from a heart of wanting to know God better. I truly and deeply appreciate that.
    When the church today is so broken and divided you are definitely helping to unite us, and encourage brothers and sisters from all over the country.
    So thank you. Thank you so much.
    Many prayers and blessings to your entire congregation.

  8. Tim MSimp says

    #2 of the “bad” reasons is theologically misguided. Yes, of course, we cannot duplicate Christ’s suffering. But we are called to “take up our cross and follow him.” This means experiencing sacrifices in our lives. Giving up meat or alcohol or Facebook or other small sacrifices might seem insignificant, but Christ does not disparage the poor widow’s offering. As he said to his disciples “Could you not wait with me one hour?” Was that one hour in the garden anything like Christ’s? No, but Christ wanted them to experience it nonetheless. Actually, many people have trouble sticking to even a modest plan of Lenten sacrifice (despite designing it themselves) which only shows how weak and sinful we are. So we need “baby” steps like this, not as ends in themselves but as a way to grow.

  9. Coni says

    I like to give up something for lent. I am not Catholic and I don’t really even understand how the real tradition is done. I give up something for Jesus starting Ash Wednesday, something I like , sweets, or meats, fries, ect. On Easter Sunday I offer them up to Jesus as an imperfect sacrifice just to show my love for Him and to acknowledge His sacrifice . It is just a heart thing between Jesus and me.

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