A friend of mine was talking the day before Ash Wednesday. She asked me what I was giving up for Lent. She said she was giving up chocolate. Another friend said she was giving up Ice Cream. I have always had a problem with giving something up for Lent, especially a certain type of food. How is giving up food a way to draw me closer to God? If I deny myself chocolate or Ice Cream am I really going to stop and think about what God gave up for me? So, I didn’t respond. I knew I would be faced with the question over and over from others. The question always seems to pop up during Lent, “What did you give up for Lent?”
I went on with my day as usual with this in the back of my head. Nothing seemed to pop into my head. Ash Wednesday came and here it was. As I sat down a piece of blank paper was in the Bulletin. There was a small hibachi at the Altar. The service was started and we were off running. After a few songs and a scripture the Minister stepped up and started talking about giving something up for Lent. Here it comes. The question she raised was a different question. Her question was, “What’s that one thing (and it may be food) that keeps you from drawing closer to God? What keeps you from having a better relationship with Him (these are not her exact words, but the meaning)? What is that one thing that stands between you and God? Wow! Now I had to stop and think a minute. We were to write it down on this piece of cloth paper and then bring it up to the altar to be burnt.
Instantly and without hesitation God gave me the answer. It wasn’t food after all, but an activity I engage in every night. Now this activity is harmless, it’s not illegal, and it’s not satanic, but it is something that keeps me from spending time with God. Instead of reading His word or doing a project worthwhile I am engaged in a useless activity. So, I knew immediately what I was to give up. Once I knew then Satan began his old tricks and tried to convince me it would not be possible to give this up and then proceeded with a list of reasons why. I came home and was challenged right off the bat. When Greg goes to bed I hit my office and I am up and running on this useless activity. I spend two hours doing something that is meaningless. Now I believe we all do need to release our energy and we all do need to engage in useless activity just to unwind, but not to the point where I was. If you take two hours each night that is 14 hours a week; (2×7) that is more than a days’ work. So I was wasting a day.
I could in that amount of time read a book out of the Bible, blog, cross-stitch, scrap book, make cards, or I could read a really good book. I could engage in an in depth Bible Study here at home. I could call a friend or visit a friend or the list of good possibilities goes on and on. So, I now have an answer, “For Lent I am giving up a useless activity. I may allow myself to do some of this activity on Saturday and Sunday, but it won’t be for two hours any longer.”
On Wednesday morning I attended a Bible Study and we began discussing various things in the study. We all concluded something we each have known for years; it’s all about control. We like to be in control of our own destiny, we like to be in control of how things go, and we like to be in control of what goes on in our lives. If you are serious about walking with God that is not possible; God wants complete control of not only our lives, but our minds, heart, and actions.
If there is anything I have learned in my years of living it is that complete control is hard and I’d say impossible. No one is perfect; no one is able to give God complete control of their lives, but it is possible to let Him have more and more of it while you have less of it. As I look back over my years of walking with Christ I realize He has more control in my life than He did say ten years ago, or even fifteen. There are still some areas that I find giving up control are really hard. For instance, giving up the control of my daughters’ lives was really hard, I am not sure I am there, but I am so much better than I was. When it comes to the health of my daughters I want to be in control and I want to know everything is going to be just fine with them. Instead God asks me to give Him control and trust Him to take care of them. Do you know how hard that is?
I have had a hard time giving up control of my finances big time. I have had a hard time with losing a savings account and giving God control of our finances. At one point in my life I was in control of my finances and I knew I would have enough to live out retirement and life would be good. I did little to trust God in that area. Because of some circumstances that happened that savings account is now gone and I am depending on God and putting my whole trust in Him and allowing Him to handle the finances. Things are looking up for us, not because of anything I did, but because of what He is doing.
Control is not something that can be done easily. I have figured out God looks at the big picture, He decides what we have the hardest time with and begins to work on it with us. As we master that He goes on to the next thing. He does that until we have given Him complete control, but still that will not happen until we meet with Him face to face. I say that because as long as we are in this world the world will convince us we need to be the master of our own destiny, we need to control our own lives and not depend on other people. We also are given free will. God gives us that free will to choose for ourselves who will control our lives; Him or ourselves. He doesn’t want puppets. He wants people to come to Him freely and He wants us to freely give Him control of our lives.
We also agreed in this study when we jump ahead of God and do something on our own and take control of a situation we usually mess up. Things don’t always turn out the way we want them to when we take control and part of that is because we can’t see the whole picture. God sees the whole picture. He knows the twists and turns in any given situation. So since He can see the whole picture better than we can we should give Him complete control to handle any given situation; but we are humans and we like that control.
I was in control of those two hours not God. I controlled what I did and how much time I spent doing that. Was I or am I willing to give up control? The New Living Translation for Isaiah 55:8 reads like this, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” God’s thoughts and His ways are so much better than mine. I need to control those things that need controlled and hand them over to God.
I have figured out giving things up for Lent isn’t a pat you on the back kind of thing. It’s not about giving up something just because someone else is doing it. Giving up control of your life and giving up something for Lent is more about focusing on God and growing into a deeper relationship with Him.
The question for each of us becomes just as my Minister said, “What is separating you and God? What’s keeping you from having that relationship you so desire?
Dear Lord: Thank you for opening my eyes to what it truly means to give something up for Lent. It’s also about giving you more control and me having less in my life. As I sacrifice these two hours each night help me to replace those two hours with something that will draw me closer to you or help me draw others closer to you. Thank you so much for all you gave up for me so I might live with You forever. Amen