Lent is a time for traditionally giving up unhealthy habits and wanton behaviors. But there are some Christians who may need to dump a few things that they do on Sunday under the guise of religion. Here’s eight “churchy” activities to consider surrendering during this season of penitence, prayer and self-denial:
Crabbing about something is a year-round church sport. We might think we’re helping to improve our church or simply venting so we won’t explode. Horsefeathers! During Lent, take a Sabbath from complaining. Quit griping about your pastor, the temperature setting in the sanctuary, Ol’ So-and-So who only shows up at Easter and Christmas. Replace with encouragement, kind words and prayer. Or simply button your lip. The Word of God clearly says, “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29 NET Bible).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people do an impersonation of a gloomy statue during worship. They stand for a hymn or the reading of the Gospel, but their lips are turned down, their eyes go dead, their face hardens into a picture of stony boredom. Come on, man! Wake up, woman! Rejoice! God is for you! Christ is alive! Would you be expressionless if your football team was driving toward the goal line? Is your countenance a chunk of marble when your kid or grandchild hits that high note in the school musical? Perhaps you come to church with grief in your heart, so you don’t feel like smiling. Okay, then, cry and cry big! Just don’t do an impersonation of a gargoyle in God’s presence.
Showing Up Late
What? You didn’t know you were going to church the day before? Okay, I get it. You have fussy kids to wake up, feed and dress. It’s raining. You hit the snooze button one too many times. Stop the excuses, OK? You don’t miss work–and that’s at least five days a week. Sunday is just one day. You don’t ditch appointments that mean money in your pocket or pleasure for your body and soul. Why would you miss encountering the Creator of the cosmos and fellowshipping with His people?
Yep, we all see you dozing off during the choir special. At one church I pastored, I could always count on one gentleman to drift off during my sermons. (I don’t think they were that boring). Get some Z’s the night before service. If you have a sleep disorder, go see your doctor. Come to church with an alert mind and expectant spirit. Worship is too important to nap through. “…now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13:11 KJV).
Communion Sundays seem to be a golden opportunity for some to play hooky. The excuse is, “Service always goes long when they serve the Lord’s Supper.” The body of Jesus was broken for you, His precious blood shed for the whole world. He is ready to meet you in the sacred elements. Why would you want to skip out on that?
Saying “Adios” Before the Last Hymn
I see this all the time–people ducking out of the sanctuary when the invitation is offered and the final hymn announced. You don’t want to stay one more sweet moment to sing praises to God? What if the Holy Spirit moved a person down the aisle to confess sin, express a desire to be baptized or ask the pastor to join your fellowship? Wouldn’t you want to welcome and encourage this soul? Might the benediction or a beaming smile from a fellow worshipper give you a blessing that you need? Your pastor can always use a cheerful word on your way out. God moves in mysterious ways–sometimes saving the best for last.
Historically, Lent has been a time for focused giving. Catholics consider almsgiving as one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, the other two being prayer and fasting. Instead of one dollar in the offering plate, how about five? Or ten? Maybe go all out and give a Jackson or even a Franklin to a ministry or charity you believe in and trust that the Lord will meet your needs for rest of the week. As the old saying goes, “You can’t outgive God.”
Lent is a time for “doing God’s thing,” not yours. It is a season to examine yourself (II Cor 13:5) for the purpose of drawing nigh to God (James 4:8), casting off every heavy burden and entangling sin (Heb 12:1) and serving the Lord wholeheartedly (Eph 6:7, Col 3:23). Self-denial is not an exercise in self-torture; it is joyfully denying yourself those things that get in the way of a full relationship with Christ.
Come to think of it, these habits would be great to give up for the rest of the year, not just Lent. Last time I checked, our walk with Jesus is 24/7.