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What does it mean when people say they are giving something up for Lent? Are Christians required to observe Lent?

Every year before Easter, we often hear people say they are giving up something for “Lent,” but many of us have no idea what Lent is really about. Let’s talk about that.

What Is Lent?

Lent is a period of time, about forty days, leading up to Easter. During this time, some Christians, in order to focus more on God, give up something that they normally enjoy. Lent is actually more like forty-six days because you do not follow Lent on Sundays. Normally people fast from something such as a soda, social media, Netflix or coffee for these forty days. But Lent is not just about giving something up. It is about focusing on Jesus. It is about focusing on the cross, on who Jesus is and what he has done for us. It is a time of repentance, of confession and of growing closer to God.

Lent Is Not Commanded

God has not commanded Christians to fast. However, it is a practice that Christians have done for centuries. It can be a powerful time when you chose to fast, to give up something, in order to focus more on God.

[Related: Should Christians Today Fast?]

Biblical Instruction on Fasting

Fasting is not something that was just made up by religious people. Jesus himself spoke about fasting.

Matthew 6:16-18 “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Notice Jesus says “when” you fast. Jesus is saying that there are times in all of our lives that we should focus on God, on prayer and should fast. The forty days leading up to Easter is a wonderful time to chose to do this. But fasting is not just about food. There is a wide variety of things that you can choose to fast from.

[Related: Fasting | Basic Practices for Growing Christians #7]

Recommendations About Fasting

Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t tell everyone how horrible it is for you to be giving this particular thing up. Just quietly, between you and God, commit to giving up something for the forty days leading up to Easter.

As you are fasting, focus on getting closer to God. Be sure to spend time reading the Bible. Also, use the resources to lead you through this season and in this time of reflection and of repentance.

Find a Mentor

It can be helpful to experience Lent with a mentor. This is a great way to process the things God is showing you during this time. It can be a person with whom you can share the truths that God is showing you.

[Related: What is Easter and Where Did it Come From?]

Lent is not something that God forces us to do. It is something that he allows us to do to focus on Jesus and get closer to him. It is also not something that can only be practiced during Easter time. It can be done throughout the year to grow in your relationship with God.

Talk About It
  1. What stood out to you in this topic? Why?
  2. What is something new that you learned about Lent from watching this video?
  3. Read Matthew 6:16-18. What are some truths from these verses that you think you could apply to your life?
  4. Would you be tempted to tell lots of people what you are doing? How do you think you should respond if someone asks directly why you are giving something up?
  5. What fears do you have related to fasting for Lent?
  6. How can you make this Lent a time of growing closer to God rather than of just giving something up?
  7. Make a list of some possible things to give up for Lent and then pray about what God would have you do.
  8. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.