Acceptable to God
"Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?" Isaiah 58.5
Lent is a period of 40 days plus 6 Sundays, leading up to Easter. It begins today, which is called Ash Wednesday because some Christian traditions mark it with a ceremony during which the ash produced from burning last year's Palm crosses is smeared on the foreheads of worshippers in the shape of a cross. Because of its association with the 40 days which Jesus spent fasting in the desert prior to his confrontation with Satan at the beginning of his earthly ministry, many people give up some indulgence like alcohol or rich food. More recently there has arisen a fashion for taking up some worthy new habit or activity.
There is nothing wrong with any of this. But it only counts as an expression of faith if it is for the purpose of drawing closer to God and being more considerate of others. Otherwise our laying down or taking up is an exercise in personal improvement, rather than an expression of devotion to God. The prophet Isaiah goes a stage further, to accuse those who make a big deal of their fasting as being guilty of self-indulgence and blasphemy. Why? Because their fasting is a sham, designed to give the appearance of spirituality while in fact ignoring the very things which are important to God: self-humbling, attentiveness to the needs of our neighbours, care for creation.
None of this should put us off entering into the spirit of the season. It's a cautionary reminder to examine our motives, so that whatever we decide to do has integrity and therefore proves acceptable to God and effective in its aim. So may this season of abstinence and preparation bring you closer to God, make you more aware of yourself and deepen your concern for creation and our fellow creatures...