Giving Up Something for Lent? A Fresh Idea for a Traditional Practice (Part 1)
Lent has been around since the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The word "lent" was often associated with Spring. A time of renewal… rebirth. Those fathers of the faith weren't just talking about flowers.
The idea was that Christians would fast 40 days before Easter, just as Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert.
This season of going without would purge the believer of obstacles in their relationship with God and make room for a richer, healthier relationship to bloom.
Those obstacles might be things that brought pleasure (alcohol, deserts) or practices that would be good to abstain from … gossiping, swearing, being critical of others.
In simple terms, Lent was, and is, an opportunity to say "out with the old" and "in with the new!"
Recently, I saw a meme that got my brain spinning with regard to Lent. It said that if Jesus were here, instead of asking us to give up something that brought us pleasure, He would be more likely to ask us to give up something that brings us pain.
That stuck with me.
What if our Lenten fast was about "giving up" those things that God doesn't want us to shoulder in the first place?
What might God want us to fast from? What would help us bloom and renew if we would only shed it? Do we need to rid ourselves of bitterness? Doubt? Fear?
Today, I'm asking, "what might our lives look like if we released ourselves from the burden of self-sufficiency?"
Plenty of ancient heroes could teach us a thing or two about this, but I decided to focus on Moses. He said this:
"I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me." Numbers 11:14 NIV
Clearly, self was not sufficient for Moses.
We could trace the beginning of Moses' burden back to the exodus from Egypt. But we only need to go back one chapter to get a good idea of what Moses is currently dealing with, which has overwhelmed him.
The Israelites are following the cloud of the Lord as He takes them from the desert of Sinai to the desert of Paran. Every time they start up during the journey, Moses says to God,
"Get up, God! Put down your enemies! Chase those who hate You to the hills!"
Every time they stop, Moses says,
"Rest with us, God. Stay with the many, many thousands of Israel."
Did you catch that? The way Moses spoke to God. It's in the form of an imperative. A short phrase with an exclamation point!
God! Get up!
God! Rest with us!
This manner of speech implies familiarity, desperation, and maybe both!
Scholars say that over 600,000 fighting men comprised the Exodus from Egypt. That number only reflects the warriors. There were also the elderly, the wives, children, and extended family.
Moses had a handful, and he knew it. But fortunately, God had also proven time and time again that He was right there with them. So, Moses had learned to call on his God… whether he was coming or going through life.
The Israelis are off, and marching–– stopping only when cued to make camp, eat, rest, and then march again.
It took only a short time until the grumbling began. Moses lived the reality of "are we there yet" only a thousand times upon a thousand.
To boot, rabble-rousers were beginning to surface. Troublemakers decided to take advantage of the over 600,000 tired feet. They were quick to help everyone find a reason for complaint.
We miss the melons in Egypt!
We want meat!
All we get is manna, manna, manna. [Sounds like "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" from the Brady Brunch!]
Discontent is an ugly thing, and it's hard to hear when we're a parent.
How that must have hurt God's ears. How quickly they had forgotten the slavery of Egypt… making bricks without straw… the beatings… the slaying of their children.
All they could think about now was, "are we there yet?" and "where's the meat?"
Moses heard the whining of his people, and he knew trouble was brewing.
God was not pleased.
There are numerous examples in Scripture where Moses pleads with God on behalf of His people. Moses would know they messed up but would ask God to be merciful.
But listen to Moses' response this time.
"Moses said to God, "Why are you treating me this way? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, 'Give us meat; we want meat." Numbers 11:11-13 MSG
Two things come to mind when I hear Moses' response. First: all that complaining was contagious. Think about it. Magnify a whiny, complaining attitude by 600,000 plus, and you know what? It would be hard not to chime in. Moses did.
What a powerful reminder of how important it is to exercise discretion when it comes to the people we hang out with.
That does NOT mean we shouldn't befriend, help and minister to anyone and everyone. But it does mean that we can choose who our friends are. We can have a say about who and what we allow to influence our thinking.
The second thing that comes to mind is how desperate Moses' must have been. Moses isn't just tired and overwhelmed. He is at the end of himself.
Ever been there before? That situation, that season, where you think, "I don't know if I can do this anymore." This is where our friend Moses was.
"I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me."
In the journey from Egypt, God had demonstrated to Moses many times how reliable of a God He was. This occasion would be no different. But how God chose to relieve Moses of his burden is fascinating. Listen to what God said,
"God said to Moses, "Gather together seventy men from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you know to be respected and responsible. Take them to the Tent of Meeting. I'll meet you there. I'll come down and speak with you. I'll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them; they'll then be able to take some of the load of this people—you won't have to carry the whole thing alone." Numbers 11:16-17 MSG
God didn't just bring Moses a helper; he brought Moses seventy helpers. Helpers who, in turn, would not be left to their own devices. No, God would "share the wealth." He spread His Spirit across them all.
Can you imagine if Moses had decided to buck up, forge ahead, and figure it out? Self-sufficiency can be a good thing. But sometimes it is not. Sometimes when we are so determined to figure it out alone, we miss the miraculous, far more powerful ways God will deal with our situation.
Moses "fasted" from self-sufficiency. And because he refrained from it, he received a blessing 70 times more than one man's ability. That sounds like a good trade to me.
I wonder, is God prodding any one of us to pause, evaluate, and finally confess,
"…the burden is too heavy for me."
Lent… a time of purging… cleansing… and renewal. It is a time for some things to go…so new things can come.
Self-sufficiency isn't a sin. But there is wisdom in knowing when to ask for help.
Whatever it is we're dealing with, God can handle it. And Jesus is thrilled to see us "fast" from self-sufficiency!