Five reasons not to observe Lent

I must confess that when I saw that title on an online article by a man named Aaron Damiani, I could feel a rant start to boil up inside my soul. “Just more ‘spiritual but not religious’ gas,” I thought. Then I read the article and saw that Mr. Damiani is a Christian pastor and was actually making some good points, not about Lent itself but about the Lenten custom of self-denial. He wasn’t talking about the value of Lenten worship; he was addressing people’s thought processes about what they were giving up for the season. According to Rev. Damiani, here are five wrong reasons to practice Lenten self-denial:

  1. To slim your waistline. Lent is not a season for weight loss. . . . The goal is to cultivate a spiritual hunger for God, not a slimmer physique. . . .
  2. To make God happy. Sometimes I like to think I can control God, making him happy (or just less angry) simply by taking up the classic Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and generosity towards others. At its heart, this is a ‘hunger strike’ approach to God—going without food to get the attention of the prison warden. I’ve found out the hard way that God does not play along with that silly game. This will just leave us either proud or depressed: ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?’ (Isaiah 58:3).
  3. To cure an addiction. . . . If you feel powerless to break a dependence on alcohol, sexual activity, gambling, drugs, overeating or any other vice, seek professional help from a licensed counselor and an addiction recovery program in your church or community.
  4. To showcase your spirituality or virtue. . . . .Whether we’re fasting, praying more regularly or giving our money to the poor, Jesus warns us against showcasing it for Facebook ‘likes.’ ‘“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warned, “for then you will have no reward from your Father who is Heaven”’ (Matthew 6:1).
  5. Because it’s the cool trend. . . . Increasing numbers of people from all walks of life are jumping on the Lent bandwagon. Maybe they are feeling far from God and want a tangible way to reignite their spirituality. Or perhaps they’re feeling adrift in the modern world and want to reconnect with ancient practices. In any case, don’t join the herd out of a fear of missing out. The mystique will wear off faster than the dirt on your forehead from Ash Wednesday. . . .” **

Thanks, Rev. Damiani. I personally fasted one Good Friday as a sign of my commitment to the Lord. I was pretty heroic throughout the morning, thinking of Christ every time my stomach suggested I look into breakfast. The afternoon was much harder. I thought about food most of the time and only a little bit about Jesus. The evening was the worst. I didn’t think about Jesus at all and went to bed at 8:00 P.M. because I couldn’t stand being awake any longer.

Self-denial is a venerable tradition and is helpful to some Christians. But there are more important things about Lenten observance than whether or not you give up drinking or red meat. Here are my five reasons for observation of the Lenten season:

  1. Learn the Passion stories well. All four gospel writers spend many chapters on the two stupendously important last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Each one tells the narrative from a different point of view. Study them all carefully—each is a gem, illustrating human sin and Christ’s righteous obedience and suffering.
  2. Learn the Lenten hymns. There is a powerful body of Christian poetry and song that celebrates the Passion of our Lord. If you get to know them well, you can sing them to yourself.
  3. Repent all over again. Lent is a time for solemn self-examination, honesty before the mirror of God’s law, and humble pleas for God’s mercy.
  4. Reclaim Christ’s forgiveness. It is free to you, but it was frightfully expensive for Christ. Count his gospel gift as your highest treasure.
  5. Decide on some things that need change in your life. Never settle for the sins of yesterday. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).


.Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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