What You Should *Never* Give Up for Lent

By Guest Contributor February 9, 2016

By Kyle Rohane

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

I’d never been asked that question before. It seemed like a reasonably pious thing to do, so I answered, “I guess I’m giving up coke.” In most parts of the country, that’s not much of a commitment—just drink a Pepsi instead. But in Texas, “coke” means “all carbonated beverages.” And I love my carbonated beverages.

As the words were coming out of my mouth, my brain was panicking. What are you doing? You won’t make it a week. Remember that “30 hour famine” from high school? 10 hours in, you tore into a bag of Doritos. But then another tiny voice in my head shut the first voice up: You can do it. Just think of it like a diet. Now that was something I could get behind. Sacrifice something for God; lose a few pounds. Simple enough.

Looking back on that experience, I now know that I didn’t really “get it.” But at the time, it truly felt like a win-win. Self-denial for the sake of self-improvement? Count me in.

Even if your church doesn’t observe the Lenten season, it probably encourages self-denial in some form. It’s a key component of leadership, and it’s crucial to understanding the life of Christ. He willingly set aside his lofty position, his comfort, and even his life. By practicing self-denial, we connect with him and remember his mission.

Lent_quoteBut self-denial isn’t always the same as sacrifice. Like my first Lenten experience, self-denial can still be selfish. And that type of self-denial is quite common in our church culture. “I’ll give up my Sunday mornings for church, but I better hear the type of music I like.” Or “I’ll tithe, but it better be used exactly how I want it to be used.” We don’t mind giving things up as long as we get something better in return.

And that was the key problem with my Lenten diet. It was insincere. I wasn’t interested in sacrifice; I wanted to gain something. I missed the key focus of the Lenten season: our complete dependance on Christ. Lent isn’t about self-help; it’s about helplessness. We sacrifice the things we love to remind ourselves just how much we need God. But I just wanted to look pious while secretly benefiting myself. What is one thing you should never give up for Lent? Your integrity.

I forgot that true sacrifice is others-oriented. It’s self-denial for the benefit of other people. When you encourage your students to practice self-denial (or do it yourself), do you emphasize the fact that sacrifice should have others in mind?


Try this: next time you make a sacrifice, for Lent or any other occasion, don’t just think about what you’re giving up. Think about what you’re replacing it with. Giving up a TV show or a social media app might be difficult, but you should also think about what’s filling that space it leaves in your life. If you’re just using that time for another self-serving activity, it’s not much different from my “sacrificial” weight-loss program.

But if you use that time to serve others, your self-denial will start to become true sacrifice. Encourage your students to do the same thing—every time they subtract something from their lives, make sure they add something else in its place: prayer, meaningful time with others, time in the Bible, or simple acts of service. Each of these things will help keep your students’ sacrifices from become selfish, and it will remind them of their complete reliance on God.

The tremendous gap left by Jesus’ death was filled by his resurrection. His sacrifice purchased new life for his followers. This Lenten season, don’t let self-improvement distract you from your ultimate need: Christ.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More