As we enter the 40 days leading up to Easter (Ash Wednesday is March 6), I think upon the traditions of the season – much of which comes from my youth when Lent was “fasting from chocolate” season, and no meat on Fridays. (Which didn’t mean a lot of sacrifice because I adored the Mac n Cheese substitute at my house growing up!)

In my more mature years, I’ve prayed that the Lord would help me to take sin as seriously as He does. To take repentance seriously. To take sacrifice seriously. And I’ve been meditating on this verse from 2 Samuel:

“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:25

I’m ashamed to admit that over the years I’ve sometimes taken my “fasts” lightly: I’ve been known to give up something small for Lent that doesn’t come with a cost that means anything to me long-term. Those didn’t turn out to be growing seasons – those were duty seasons.

But the Lenten season can have transformative effects on my life—if I approach it in a way that is serious and helps me practice godly character through repentance.

Repentance is not just being sorry for what we’ve done. It’s deciding to turn around 180 degrees and follow God instead. Deciding that He is right. His ways are the ones I choose, not my own. It’s a character change on my part.

As this change in focus has come in the last decade, my fasts have looked different. Sometimes, yes, I deny the body its earthly cravings; there is much to be said for food fasts! But fasting from other earthly cravings, the ones that drag us headlong into sinful behavior – that’s not only where the real sacrifice comes in…but it’s where spiritual growth can take off.

I’ve written down a few ideas I’ve either decided upon for a Lenten season before, or am considering for this year, and these might spark thoughts for your own Lenten discipline. Consider areas of your life that are in need of cleaning up – and develop a discipline around one of them.

  • Fast from a critical spirit. Each time for the next 40 days that you find yourself speaking anything negative, even the tiniest thing – apologize immediately to the person who heard you.
  • Abstain from pride. The best way to stop promoting ourselves is to lift up others; every day, find at least one opportunity to celebrate another person in the presence of a third party. A coworker, a loved one, a store clerk – help them to see their value to you, and express your gratitude to have them in your life.
  • Teach your ears to listen. Focus on daily decisions you make – even the tiniest ones. Ask the Lord all day long for His wisdom. By whom should I sit? Do I purchase this? What should I say? Journal the surprising results, and celebrate how the Lord speaks in the smallest moments.
  • Love someone unlovable. Who is the person regularly in your path whom you attempt to avoid? Intentionally reach out weekly to build a relationship with them.
  • Curb ingratitude. Bring it under control by looking for things to be thankful for – on a schedule. Set a timer on your phone for four times a day, and when the reminder chimes, stop everything and look around you at that moment to discover how many things are within view for which you can express your thanks to God.
  • Forbear sloth. Is there an action God has put on your heart, but you haven’t yet taken steps? Now is the perfect season to be obedient, offering yourself willingly into God’s service.
  • Tame your calendar. Our bodies aren’t the only thing needing discipline; look at how you spend your time, and carve out a specific daily time to spend in the Word.
  • Journal your discipline. At the beginning of Lent, journal a prayer for whatever it is you need the Lord to do in your heart. Create weekly check-in Bible journal pages during the 40 days of Lent, and document how God has begun to work in you.

Most importantly, pray about what God would have YOU fast from, and be obedient. You might be amazed at all He can build up in you over 40 days.