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We are now well in to Lent by the time you read this, and perhaps you have decided to "give something up for Lent." Fasting is an ancient and important Christian tradition, which can teach us the value of what we are giving up because we miss it. Fasting enables us to focus on others who do not have what we take for granted, and opens us up to pray for them. Imagine many cocoa plantation workers who have never tasted a bar of chocolate, and suddenly your giving it up for Lent becomes a prayer concern and even a cause for action.

We would be mistaken if we thought Lent was merely for giving something up. The Christian faith has always taught that fasting should be accompanied by both prayer and charity. Jesus in Matthew chapter 6 teaches on these three things together, and that is no coincidence. Fasting of itself will just make you miserable, so you might as well eat that chocolate bar, or have that glass of wine. On the other hand if your fasting focuses your mind on God's goodness in giving these things, and on others who may lack them, then that can make a difference to the way we live and to the lives of others. In the same way prayer should make us open to change, so that as we pray for the needs of others we do something about it, and maybe make a personal sacrifice to do so.

Lent can also make us think about what might we need to give up because perhaps we have too much. Moving to Malvern led Sylvia and I to simplify so that we could fit what we have into the new manse, but I have become increasingly concerned that I have too much stuff. The consequences of our materialism is now apparent in the alarming amount of waste plastic which is polluting our oceans and endangering our wildlife, along with the climate change brought about by producing so much. The World's economy is based upon the need for constant growth, which means ever increasing manufacturing, more buying, and more consumerism. The results are not good, harming not just our planet but our souls. We are constantly bombarded with the message we need to be shopping in order to be happy, and this is surely damaging to our inner selves.

Lent challenges us to change, to be content with and thankful for what we have, and to be concerned with what others lack. It tells us that we cannot live on bread alone, we cannot have other gods, and we cannot own the world. Lent is meant to turn us back towards God, and towards one another. Lent means fast, pray, give, and be happy.

With every blessing