“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee or chocolate. I asked you to surrender your life.” – God


We are now in the Lenten season and let me begin by first sharing the conclusion of my post in case you have an attention span of a 2-year-old:

Lent isn’t about you
or about what you’re giving up.

But we’ll get to that soon.

For those that might not be familiar with Lent, it is the 40 day period (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday that has traditionally been a time of preparation for those who were preparing for baptism and later expanded to include the larger Christian community.  It marks a time of prayer, penance, repentance,  humility, self-denial, and soul-searching as one draws closer to the Passion of Christ and ultimately, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection. You can check out my sermon to get a crash course on the history of Lent – and how it started (likely) as a 2-3 day event and eventually became a 40-day rhythm by 325 AD at the Council of Nicaea.

I appreciate the Lenten season for many and various reasons. In fact, the Lenten season is important to me because it helps me create rhythm in my life – something especially helpful when busyness, chaos, randomness, clutter, and lots of noise inundate my life. I deeply appreciate Lent because it helps me prepare for Passion Week  – the final week of Christ. And while we know Easter brings upon us the celebration of the resurrection, I am grateful that the Lenten season more thoughtfully and deeply prepares me for Crucifixion Friday or known by most as Good Friday.

This year, I’m choosing – along with some other things – to give up “coffee” during the Lent season. Trust me, for someone that runs a cafe, has his offices in a cafe, and has access to Stumptown Coffee, this will certainly be a “test” of self-denial.

But even after acknowledging that I myself am “giving up” coffee during Lent, I’m ambivalent and reticent about how vogue or easy it is to give something up during Lent. Umm, especially when it’s something like chocolate, sodas, sugar, Facebook, Twitter, television, and – umm – coffee.

I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. Not at all. Go for it. More power to you.

Religion gone bad.

In fact, I understand the significance of self-denial and feel it’s something we should actually pursue more of – especially beyond the Lent season. Like as a life commitment. But if we’re not careful, we can so easily just fall into religious practice for the sake of religious practice. If the goal is merely the giving up of something without taking up of something more significant, the focus is just merely on the stuff which we give up or really, the focus is on the practice of giving up something rather than giving into Jesus – or in other words, our solidarity with Jesus. In truth, it becomes about us. Again.

Anything that produces rituals, expressions, practices, and the like – without ultimately inviting us to a deeper understanding and worship of the Living God…lends itself to empty religion. Slowly but surely without us even knowing.

And what we need isn’t more empty religion.

We need Gospel.

And by Gospel, I’m not speaking of a self-help, pop spiritual psychology, but a Gospel that cuts into the heart of humanity with a grace that compels us to not just merely to salvation but a life committed to justice, reconciliation, and redemption.

Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with. It’s a fasting that caters to our own eyes, flesh, and pleasure but not the kind of fasting that God invites us to:

a life broken and transformed
by the things of God

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
5 You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads

like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,

and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.

You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

Or in other words, I wonder if God might have these words for me (and for you if I may be so audacious):

“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to surrender your life.”

So here’s the question:

In what way does the self-denial of whatever makes you more mindful of Christ and the Kingdom of God?

For me, I don’t want to think of it as only giving up but rather a season of more deeply ‘giving in’ or ‘giving to’…

  • In what way am I more compelled to give in to the ways of God?
  • How am I more deeply giving in and giving to – to my neighbors, wife, children, church, strangers, refugees, etc?
  • How am I more deeply giving or growing in stewardship, generosity, my convictions, etc?
  • How am I more giving in to the Ways of Christ?  How am I more giving in to Mercy, Justice, and Humility?

When you give up something, replace it with something more beautiful, more just, more compassionate, more honoring to Christ. Removing weeds without planting something…only produces more weeds later.

When you give up _______ for Lent, do it with purpose and love for God. Doing it for the sake of doing it…makes us only like a clanging cymbal and a resounding gong. 

“Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”

Here’s an alternative invitation for Lent – whether you give up something or not:

Give yourself more fully to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Remember, you are dust
and to dust you shall return.
Repent, believe, and be saved  by the gospel of Christ.
Rejoice in the good news that God has conquered death and sin.
Thanks be to God.

(originally written in 2011)


90 Replies to ““Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee or chocolate. I asked you to surrender your life.” – God”

  1. I fully agree with your sentiment on self-denial and that, if not done for the glory of Christ and His Kingdom, it becomes nothing more then a religious exercise of self-righteousness. What a great picture you give when you say: “I don’t want to think of it as a giving up but rather a season of more deeply ‘giving in’ or ‘giving to.” I have experience in both good and bad ways to deny yourself.

    A good, self-imposed fast, works when your heart is set on Jesus and you replace the activity/food/beverage/etc with something that is good. It cannot be stressed enough that the heart has to be turned towards Jesus throughout the process. If it’s not, you will have done far more harm then good and might even find yourself deeper into a certain habit you may be trying to break.

  2. When i really want that thing —-for me an assortment of addictions between pop, desserts & spider solitaire—– I intentionally turn that desire around and try to seek God in the same ways I seek that thing or things. I’m also trying to launch that into a general prayer of confession and association with Jesus in general. Jesus suffered, I’m trying to get my head around it through Lent. Other than my own consequences for my own STUPID mistakes, I don’t suffer.

    Here’s my longer response if your interested… a blog post I wrote today about why I think American Christians -in particular- should give up something for Lent…


    1. “I intentionally turn that desire around and try to seek God in the same ways I seek that thing or things. I’m also trying to launch that into a general prayer of confession and association with Jesus in general.”


  3. YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! i love this. a few years ago the Lord really convicted me during Lent – what is the purpose of being all cool and giving something up with my friends if I were to remain how I was spiritually {and then a bunch of really hard-to-admit things about myself popped up}? It was as if he said “go ahead and eat your fast food, but give me more of you.”

    Since then i’ve tried to not only give up, but also implement.

    This year, as I did two years ago, I am giving up Facebook. I am implementing morning devotions {which is hard because I wake up either at 3 am {!!!!} or 5 am}. The giving up Facebook is actually to aid in my devotions. Less pointless time on the internet. It’s also to help me enjoy where I am at right now.

    I was reading in a book called The Liturgical Year and in it the author says this about Lent…

    “To be able to control our bodies is to be able to control ourselves in even more challenging situations. Fasting enables us to say no to ourselves, no small feat in a world that stresses self-gratification to the ultimate.”

    so yeah.I must ask, though. you said “coffee” and not just coffee. what does that mean?

      1. oh. you just wrote “coffee” and “giving up” in reference to coffee, so I wasn’t sure if you were giving it up completely or just giving up not making it yourself or… something. maybe I just read the quotations wrong.

  4. I love your emphasis on what to DO, not just NOT to do….for Lent (and for life at the moment), I’m working on the actions mentioned in Isaiah 58:7

    “Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
    Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help…”

    and trying to do it for the right reasons…

  5. I have become distressed in recent months at how short my temper has become here at home with my kids, who I see all the time since I homeschool, and how much my behavior when I’m outside the house does not always match the way I am inside the house. My church friends, for example, have this strange perception that I am this patient, gentle hearted person with my kids, but sadly this is often far from the truth. I want for there to be less dissonance between who I am at home and who I am in public settings, so for Lent I have decided to “give up” impatience and short-temperedness with my kids. I told them about this tonight and they were hilarious about it. “What if you can’t do it, Mom?” asked my 5-year old. Thanks for the vote of confidence, sweetie! But my hope is that this intentional decision to improve in this particular area of my life will help me develop a deeper consistency between my public and my private persona, which ultimately will also help my kids better understand what integrity is all about. Wish me luck. Better yet, pray for me. I will need it. =)

    1. Thank you Helen Lee! I homeschool as well and I find myself receiving compliments from others on what a wonderful, patient mother I am as well…but I have the conviction that I am far from it. No condemnation, but I know that I am not denial about who I am and the areas that still need work. Again, thanks for sharing…from one homeschooling mom to another! Stay encouraged and may the Lord bless you and your family abundantly!

    2. Helen, thanks for being honest! I do see myself in your words. I have asked God this year to have this “gentle and quiet spirit” specially concerning my kids (I am mom of 3). And I have recently thinking what can I “offer” during this Lent time? And your words sounds like an answer to my prayers… I wanna pray that we are going start and pass this season… and in the end something new is there… that will endure forever! be blessed!

  6. Hi Eugene, I followed this from Justin’s link on fb.

    I’ve really never understood lent. It’s always been interpreted by me as one of two things: 1. people trying to lose weight, or 2. people trying to prove their dedication to God.

    Now, I have no problem with people trying to lose weight, but can we please just give up the self-righteous claim that we’re doing it in the name of God? (Also, since my birthday typically falls during the Lent season, I’ve had lots of negative experiences where friends refuse to celebrate by eating my birthday cake because they gave up chocolate, or snacks, or sugar, or whatever. Guess what? My birthday should trump Lent!…Also, I’ve had lame friends who gave up sugary good things for Lent gift me their sugary things for my birthday…as if I won’t realize that they have no use for them at the time).

    On to trying to prove dedication to God. Guess what? God doesn’t need proof. God is the one who does the forgiving and who makes us worthy. None of our ridiculous spiritual practices are necessary.

    I realize that nothing I’ve written is brilliant, but I do like the chance to vent about my most hated church holiday. I don’t understand what the point of Lent is, and I just want you to eat my dang birthday cake, or at least admit that you’re a fatty (or delusionally think that you’re a fatty), and that’s the real reason for participation.

    In conclusion: If you must participate in Lent 1. Don’t tell others – don’t you remember what was said in the New Testament about fasting? It’s supposed to be a secret! 2. Give up something that doesn’t have side benefits (such as weight loss) for yourself. I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t want your selfish sacrifices.

    1. becky joy,

      good comments.

      it’s important to connect lent (as they did in the early church when lent originated) with the 40 days of jesus in the desert.

      lent is an imperfect attempt to to engage in the practice of self-denial (and repentance, reflection, deeper spiritual prayer) as christ did in the desert.

      as i shared in the post, the ultimate purpose of lent is not the STUFF we give up but rather giving ourselves more to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

  7. Your post reminded me that in the Gospel of Matthew the forty days in the wilderness foreshadows Jesus’ self-denial on the cross. The time in the wilderness is preparation for serving others and God. There is a direct connection between Jesus’ denials in the wilderness and what he has to deny in his ministry among the people. The question we should have is how our sacrifices for Lent prepare us to give of ourselves for others and God. Lent is not just about giving things up for the sake of giving things up, or for self-improvement. Rather, it is about reflection and preparation for a life of self-denial in the service of others and God.

  8. LORD Jesus was hungry, b/c He was made nothing, as Scripture says. I’ve been strong and been weak as well, all comes from the GOD. BTW, I’d like to see youall beat a 80 year old, in the name of Jesus. 🙂 Ha-ha, truth be told, there are most definitely some 80 year old Master ping-pong players. Back to the Suffering of Christ. He was made to suffer. It was real suffering, more than you or I have ever experienced. I am observing Lent now, thanks. I’ll give up sodas. Sacrifices were just coverings or cover-ups (penalties? or renumeration?) for our mistakes or sins. Why not, since we have the power of the Christ, just sin no more? And do good, the justice, reconciliation, and redemption.

  9. The amazing thing is that I looked at the cup of coffee and immediately recognized it as Stumptown, from Portland, even though I had no idea who wrote the article.

  10. Bear in mind, Eugene: Lent is 40 days, not counting Sundays. The logic is that Lent is a season of fasting, but Sunday, as the day of Resurrection, is always a day of feasting. This means you can still have your coffee on Sunday. It’s not cheating.

  11. In what way does the self-denial of whatever make you more mindful of Christ and the Kingdom of God?

    Most folks I know ‘give up’ something for Lent towards this goal!! Its not just the giving up for the sake of giving up….but that in that denial we enter into what Christ gave up for us and in our longing/difficulty in wanting that thing/attitude/whatever, we seek God and draw closer to him. I love this practice, look forward to it every year and feel I grow closer every year, to Him who gave me all. Whatever I give up could never be enough, but its a small offering and He who knows our hearts, knows what we are giving.

  12. Yes, coffee may be tastee but for me it’s a question of caffeine, then drink black, oolong, green tea. If one totally gave up caffeine as close as one can as it is in chocolate, etc. that would be something.

  13. In deciding to try to do something for Lent, I’ve decided to do without sodas (a major addiction for me), and to focus more time in reading and prayer. Giving up soda is partly an act of self-denial not to “prove” to God that I’m serious, but to challenge myself to truly be serious. It’s also partly for health reasons as I typically drink far more soda than water and it’s a health concern.

    We are currently in a place in our lives where we need to be involved with something, to be “doing” something. We are just beginning to connect to our church, and finding our place there, and so Lent is a good time to try to focus our minds and hearts on what God may want us to do.

  14. First year I’ve known what Lent is and I decided to give it a go. I’m a little hesitant to post since Lent isn’t over and its HARD!

    So this may sound wierd but I’m giving up pregnancy tests, lol. Sounds a lot more trivial than Josh’s decision to give up his SportsCenter App during March Madness but hey it works for me.

    After the birth of our first baby 6 months ago, I kept thinking whoa this process could restart at any moment! So I became obsessed and would literally “pee on a stick” every 2-3 days. It became a consuming thought.

    It’s been more than a month now since I’ve taken one in honor of self-denial and so on but what is so moving is that God has helped me to see that the entire time the test was positive!

    Okay no, I’m not pregnant at least not physically but I felt God bringing to my mind that I’m psychologically carrying the promise of our adoptive child. I can feel my mind replacing the thoughts of “Am I pregnant?” and worry to thoughts of hope and promise of raising another human soul to love and honor Jesus Christ! What an amazing process!

  15. Well said! Personally I need to have more grace towards people who give up these small things out of some religious obligation and then go brag about it. I know they are missing the point but maybe it has more to do with teachings. That being said more people need to be sharing from the pulpit the kind of stuff you wrote about here.

  16. I just started thinking today of giving up coffee for Lent myself, when Ash Wednesday was brought up in Chapel this morning. For me, Lent has only been something I have heard about others doing, not something I did myself, and I have never actually fasted anything for Lent, but I haven’t had a reason to either. I think that God is trying to teach me right now, however, how to be weak an draw my strength from his instead of feigning my own strength. Coffee is something that (especially in a busy season like this, where I start not getting enough sleep) keeps me going in the day (or at least helps wake me up). So I have a feeling that going robot coffee when I feel like I need it might help me learn this lesson. However, in light of the passage above, which I have heard and read before, I’m not 100% sure this is right. I mean, my point is to get into Christ and learn to rely on him – but it doesn’t necessarily involve doing things for the unfortunate. But was the main point that they were neglecting these things while trying to say they were being godly – aka, hypocrites?

  17. From Rachel Evans’ blog, “From Osheta Moore: I read somewhere to begin my Lenten fast with asking God what He wants me to “pick up” from Him, and that will help me discern what I should “put down” for Him.” Seems best to start with Jesus and not me!

  18. I like to use the time of Lent for a sort of self reflection, self check. If there is something in my life keeping me from time from God, what is it – get rid of it. If there is a behavior that is not pleasing and I know it – get rid of it and change it. If He is calling me to action or to service – do it. If He wants me to sit still and rest in His presence and grace – rest in it! Lent is a perfect time to assess and grow, to press into God and His word, mercy, guidance, grace and blessings…and then to continue it past Lent, to the cross of Good Friday, the resurrection on Easter, to celebrating in Joy at His birth…and back again!

  19. Just two quick responses:

    (a) In my opinion, those giving up coffee for lent and those giving up their lives for lent are both missing the point of lent — lent and Easter are meant to celebrate the Son of God who gave His life up on the cross so that we don’t have to. Why, I wonder, are you commissioning Christians to do something Jesus already did?

    (b) And John 3:30 is not prescriptive to the church, it’s descriptive of John the Baptist, isn’t it? I say this because there’s a lot of confusion and danger, in my opinion, when people begin to identify with someone like John, who Jesus says there is none greater. Sounds a bit semi-Pelagian?

    Again, just my two cents to encourage all towards sound Biblical doctrine (Titus 2:1).


  20. so great Eugene, thank you for this, as someone who has never observed Lent directly this remains an important message for me – i have observed different periods of fasting and usually find them hard and that i get cranky and tired and not always sure how that glorifies God or the kingdom but still feel like inserting discipline into an often undisciplined life is a good thing even in and of itself – i love how you look to the broader picture of all of this and ask are we surrendering because that needs to be our daily ask, not simply one we follow for a few weeks a year…

    keep on
    love your work and humility and humour and passion
    a fellow disciple
    brett fish

    p.s. and i really want to reblog this [which i assume is okay] – have never tried doing that before so will see how it goes…

  21. Reblogged this on Irresistibly Fish and commented:
    i really enjoy Eugene Cho. He is someone i ‘follow’ on the Twitterer and generally i find that i resonate deeply with what he says. He tends not to get caught up with the mud-and-opinion slinging that so many other Christian personalities seem to and i appreciate his humility, openness and humour in trying to be an honest and real follower of Jesus… he is not perfect and i imagine would be the first to say that… this blog in particular really captures my thoughts and words on fasting and the season of Lent way better than i ever could…

  22. Great!! This text, Isaiah 58 has spoken a lot and encourage me to see fast in a different way … It happened after a conference in April 2012. Your text comes in the same way! By the way, I ask if we must observe the Lent in these 40 days before Easter… For instance, I observed a “lent” period last September, with a group of friends, (That corresponds to the beggining of our academic year… )… When we were starting new responsabilities…
    I consider (maybe i am wrong…) that your text also goes in the sense that DO it and HOW it is done is important but not that much as WHEN it is done.

  23. I do not understand this Lent thing. If you give up something it’s because it is displeasing to God. Is that right? Why give it up for just forty days? Why not make that trivial thing in your life. a thing of the past for the rest of your life? Is it always something that is harmful yo you that you give up? Our body is a temple in which Jesus wants to reside but we have to keep it clean. Why not do something to please God forore than

  24. Why do you limit your giving up something for the Lord to just forty days? Why not make a forever commitment to God? I am sure He would be much more pleased if it is something that.is not good for your body. Why not give up Sundaykeeping and follow God’s commandment to keep the seventh day holy as in the begimming?

  25. Thank you for this explanation about having an alternative approach to Lent.
    I enjoyed it and plan to share it.
    It would be extra helpful if you could add the place in scripture where you are quoting from so that we can look it up ourselves.

  26. Pingback: Family and Faith
  27. Because it’s easier to give up chocolate (or coffee) than to get off the couch and give up your time to do for others.
    Telling someone who has asked for help “I’ll pray for you” makes you feel good about doing something, but doesn’t provide the help they need. People have been praying for the 15 years that I’ve been disabled for my chores to get done, but God has yet to show up at my house to do the chores for me — and everyone I ask thinks that “I’ll pray for you” is as good as “I’ll be there tomorrow to do it for you.”

  28. Reblogged this on Slender Threads and commented:
    A friend of mine shared this post with me the other day. Initially, I balked at the title. Then I realized that Eugene Cho was saying exactly what I was feeling…how I had been wrestling with the idea of fasting during Lent. I encourage you to read his words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s