Every year on the church calendar there is a time delineated as Lent, a time where Christians across the world prepare themselves to celebrate Easter. This preparation mirrors the forty days where Jesus was tempted in the desert as recorded in Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4. However, it is not merely a time of remembrance or reflection. It is a time of action and resolution, similar to that of a New Year’s Resolution. However, this resolution is dedicated to God, modeled after Jesus, and achieved through the Spirit, and that is why it feels so different.
New Year’s Resolutions often fade away. Many people forget what their resolution even was after a couple of weeks. Not so with Lent.
Some Christians decide to build a new habit over the forty days, some Christians resolve to eradicate a habit, and many Christians decide to give up something they love. When laid out generally, all of these sound like a promise made on December 1st—“I’ll workout more,” “I’ll quit biting my nails,” “I’ll stop eating so much sugar.” But, what makes Lenten promises different is that these are promises made with God, mindful of joy to come. And in that way, it mirrors Jesus.
When Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert in order to be tempted by the devil, Satan offered fleeting goods, like food, glory, and earthly power. But Jesus denied each suggestion from Satan, knowing that whatever Satan offered was nothing in comparison to what God has to offer. He could overcome temptation because He knew what was to come. He would offer salvation to all mankind and live for eternity. That reality was far better than the worldly illusion Satan created.
For Christians, when we decide to behave or consume differently, it is so that we can actively choose God over the world. I’ve known someone who chose to build a new habit of affirming people; I’ve known someone who chose to stop tearing himself down internally; and, I’ve personally given up food on Fridays. Each of these resolutions was made with the intent to choose God.
Affirming people included deciding not to make hurtful jokes. Those jokes were funny to the world, but they insulted a child of God. Choosing to affirm instead means to choose God.
Tearing yourself down creates shame and allows Satan to speak more. In Jesus, there is no shame. Stopping that brutal internal monologue means choosing the Advocate, the one who builds you up and defends you, over the accuser.
Giving up food means giving up what feeds the flesh. The only thing Christians should want, though, is God. Choosing God over food is choosing what is unseen over what is seen.
A New Year’s Resolution isn’t typically about God. It’s not about honoring and choosing our Creator and Savior. It’s usually about making yourself better so that you feel better about yourself. With Lent, it’s not about you. It’s about God. He is the goal.
For example, starving on Fridays is not my goal this Lent. That would be a twisted perspective of what I’m striving toward. My goal is a relationship with God. Every time I covet another’s food, I can practice asking God to forgive me and to change my heart. Every time I hunger, I can ask God to let me hunger for Him more.
Then, at the end of Lent, when I break my fast, I want to celebrate not that I get to eat, but that God has already provided far more than I could ever imagine. The end of Lent is Easter, the day when Jesus was resurrected, showing that all God had promised has come to pass, and that the debt for sin has been paid and mere humans are invited into eternity. That hope set before me should create in me an excitement far greater than getting to eat on a Friday.
But, I am only human. I covet, I complain, and I forget that God is my goal as people offer me donuts, In-n-out, Chipotle, fries, barbecue sandwiches, ice cream, and it goes on. Friday, February 19th was a minefield of temptation, and I was not strong enough to handle that. Especially when the free barbecue sandwich was put directly into my hand.
If I had only been under a promise made as a New Year’s Resolution, I would have eaten that sandwich joyfully. But, I was under a promise I made to God, a promise I had asked for Him to guide me in. Through His given Spirit, I was able to give that sandwich away.
Lent isn’t about habits or fasting. Lent is about choosing God, leaving behind the things that distract us from God. It’s about joyfully seeking a deeper relationship with God. From there, God can use us for incredible things. Just look at what occurs after Jesus’ forty days dedicated to God, starting with His public ministry, and continuing on to the present, over a thousand years later, with billions of people following Jesus into forty days of temptation.
Elizabeth Moran is a senior University Scholar at Baylor. She is studying political science, great texts, communications, and religion. She is currently looking forward to the path God has for her in D.C. with the Baylor in Washington Program. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with Jesus and her friends, eating ice cream, and playing tennis!