Giving Up My Own Way for Lent

Jesus’ confession in the garden gives permission to those on a Lenten journey to say, “I don’t want to, but I want to want to.” The first thing we should give up for Lent is our desire to self-protect against suffering that sanctifies.

Topics: Sanctification | Suffering | The Death of Christ | Fasting

When we talk about Lent, we often speak to the way of the cross, entering into the story of the suffering servant so we might identify more fully with our Savior. We speak of the disciplines of prayer and fasting as a means of grace God has given for this worshipful purpose. We speak of what we’re going to give up and how we’re going to get more of Jesus this year. These are good things. But could we be missing another step in all of this? A step Jesus Himself didn’t shirk, deny or ignore? A step not skipped for a naive or semi-dishonest “I’m ready, bring it on!” but instead a freely expressed: “I don’t want to!”?

We have a model for this free and holy expressed, “I don’t want to!” in Jesus Himself. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples and then joined them in Gethsemane shortly before He was arrested. He began to feel sorrowful and troubled (Matt. 26:37), and He needed to pray. Jesus cried, “Let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). Can you believe He would say such a thing? That He would say it aloud and without apology? That He would utter it directly to His Father in heaven? He didn’t hold back. He didn’t keep it in. He didn’t hem and haw and end up saying only pious things. He was honest with the ache in His soul that was wrestling against the way of suffering.

Jesus is sympathetic with our weakness and was, in every respect, tempted as we are, yet in all His days, He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). This means His cry of “I don’t want to!” had no sin in it. There was no need to confess and repent of this confession and nothing condemnable there. It was fully acceptable to His Father. Even more than that, it was fully godly. It was the expression of a humble, human, “Help!” Like a submissive servant to a safe superior in the face of a seemingly insurmountable assignment, He didn’t say, “I don’t want to. I won’t.” Instead, His posture was, “I don’t want to. But I want to want to. Help!”

I want to eat what I want, sleep when I want and do what I want to the glory of God but without restraints on my personal freedoms to enjoy the good gifts God has given.

In this season of Lent, I don’t want to identify with the way of suffering. I don’t want to sign myself up for self-denial. I don’t want to choose sacrifice, discomfort or fasting. I want to eat what I want, sleep when I want and do what I want to the glory of God but without restraints on my personal freedoms to enjoy the good gifts God has given.

I don’t want to give up anything this Lent, but my Father hears the confession in my heart. My posture is not, “I don’t want to, and I won’t.” Instead, my heart is to say, “I don’t want to. But I want to want to. I don’t want to simply prove my self-control for the next 40 days. God, I want You to change the very root of my desires. In order to do that, God, I’m going to have to be real about what they are. And right now they are, ‘No thanks, I’d rather keep all my wants.’ So, God, I’m going to need Your help with my heart before I even get to my ‘giving up for Lent’ list.”

God doesn’t condemn me in this confession. He invites it. He invites me to come poor and needy, empty-handed and hungry for satisfying nourishment (Isa. 55:1-3). He knows it’s the perfect way to start a soul-sanctifying Lent rather than a “check, did it” kind of Lent. In the midst of Jesus’ wrestling, the Father provided Him an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). In the vulnerable heart cry of His humanity, Jesus received help—not condemnation, commands or callousness. Instead, He received the ministry of an angel to strengthen Him in His desperation.

The angel didn’t promise to take the pain away from Jesus or to relieve any discomfort. There was no promise to remove all suffering instantaneously, as if its absence was the highest good. Yet in our humanity, we often wish this to be the kind of help promised to us. But we need a better kind of help. We need a kind of help that doesn’t always eliminate the suffering, trial or adversity but provides the strength, faith and perseverance to stand firm in the face of it, with our eyes fixed on a better outcome than only the absence of struggle.

Jesus had a better promise before Him, even as He sat in the anguish of His honest confession. He had a greater joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2), an assured hope of what was to come—a promise of joy and triumph. He wouldn’t be able to bypass the cross and all the ugly, shameful, excruciating brutality that came with it, but He had a promise assuring Him the outcome would be worth it. Jesus had the help of the Spirit who gave Him the courage and resolve to posture Himself as if to say, “Okay, I’m ready now. Your will and way are better. They are best.”  

The joy on the other side is more glorious than we can imagine, but let’s be honest about the reality of getting there: It’s not going to be without struggle.

Lenten discipline isn’t meant to be easy. How can we enter into the journey of our Savior without experiencing some of the wrestle, struggle and temptation He faced? The joy on the other side is more glorious than we can imagine, but let’s be honest about the reality of getting there: It’s not going to be without struggle.

Let’s humble ourselves before our Father in Lent this year with the honest, “I don’t want to.” Let’s receive God’s invitation to “come” as we are (Isa. 55). Are we unsure the table He’ll set before us will really be filled with delightful rich food or struggling to believe but wanting to grow in humbled obedience? There is no condemnation here. God is actually pleased when we’re at a vulnerable place of confessing our neediness before Him.

God has a better plan for us this Lent than a short season of Spirit-empowered self-restraint. He knows what’s best for us is a lasting transformation that overflows with fruit beyond a 40-day fast. He’s going to use these 40 days for digging, pruning, re-planting and watering. And He’s going to require our participation.

The proactive labor He’s asking of me is not easy or without struggle. It’s a lifelong journey, but I’m starting this Lent with the model of the worshipful Jesus in the last moments before the cross, “I don’t want to, but I really do want to, so help me, God.”