One of the best and shortest speeches Winston Churchill ever gave is oftentimes misquoted. It is known as the “Never Give Up” speech. He delivered it to the students of Harrow School, where he had attended as a youth. In reality, he never said, “Never give up.” After Churchill listened to the traditional songs he had once sung as a boy, Churchill gave this short speech when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain, in October of 1941, during WWII:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
What is the difference between “giving up” and “giving in”? This is a very good time to ponder and meditate on this question, in anticipation of next Wednesday being Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the forty days of Lent, which is found in the Christian Liturgical Calendar and is observed by the followers who love their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before Ash Wednesday, there is “Fat Tuesday,” which is not in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. “Fat Tuesday” is best known for the Mardi Gras, in New Orleans, when everyone has this big parade and party all day and night and they “give in” to the sensual pleasures of “eating and drinking, and making merry, for tomorrow they will have to “give up” something good for Lent” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, Psalm 19:14, I Corinthians 15:32).
The Polish people celebrate “Fat Tuesday” by eating sweets, especially PACZKI, a Polish doughnut filled with red raspberry, lemon, strawberry, prune, blueberry, apple, custard or other fillings and often covered in powdered sugar. There is a PACZKI game where someone throws these delectable pastries at someone who is a moving target. The object of the game is to hit the moving target in the face as many times as possible. I know that I would rather eat these once-a-year treats, rather than be throwing them at someone. I am of Polish descent, but somehow I have never eaten a PACZKI, which is quite unusual for a person with gourmet taste. So, in the name of “blog research,” I purchased some PACZKI filled with red raspberry and apple jelly and custard. (Since I had a hardy lunch, I haven’t tried one yet, but I’ll let you know how they tasted next time.).
With all kidding aside, this idea of partying and over-indulging in food and drink and other earthly pleasures, before Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season begins, is an extremely distorted view of what the most important time period in the Christian Liturgical Calendar is all about. When Lent finally arrives, some Christians “give up” things without really having to “give up” things. I grew up in a church where “giving up” meat was the thing to do. Some would “give up” meat on Fridays. Others would not eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. The only problem was, the same people who “abstained” from meat went out to eat at seafood restaurants. Instead of steak, they ate lobster or scallops. Instead of a hamburger and fries, they had a fish sandwich and fries. For those who gave up decadent deserts, they only had ice cream without the hot fudge and whipped cream and jimmies and cherries.
The real purpose of Ash Wednesday is to remember where we came from and where we are going. We are reminded that we are the creatures and God is our Creator. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services where the pastor uses ashes to make a cross on the forehead of everyone who attends. My former pastor used the ashes made from last Palm Sunday’s palms (I though that was a cool idea). When the ashes are placed on the forehead, some pastors say, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust…” This phrase comes from Ecclesiastes 12:6-7: “Remember [God] – before the silver cord is severed, before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God Who gave it.” Psalm 103:13-14 teaches, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Lamentations 3:21-26 are verses that both encourage and exhort us: “Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”
In the current church I have attended since the age of eighteen, the church bulletin says this about the special Ash Wednesday Service: “Wednesday, March 5 is the traditional start of Lent in the church – a time of self-examination and self-discipline, a season of soul-searching and repentance for strengthening our love and faith in the Lord. Join us for this special service to begin the journey into Lent.”
Lent is a journey that is meant for Christians to take each year, prior to Easter (Resurrection) Sundy, in order for us to grow closer to our Creator, Savior, and Friend. The “forty days” of Lent is in honor of when Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). After fasting for forty days and nights, Matthew tells us that Jesus “was hungry” (v. 2). What an understatement! And what a perfect time for the devil to tempt Jesus with bread. The devil always waits for the perfect time, when we are the most vulnerable, to kick us when we are already down. This is what he did to Jesus. But, Jesus did not “give in” to the devil’s temptations. Instead, Jesus “gave up” His desire for bread and gave His Father total control, by using the very words of God. Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” When the devil tried to persuade Jesus to throw Himself off the highest point of the temple, he also used God’s Word (Psalm 91:11-2), Again,Jesus did not “give in” to the desire to put the devil in his place and demonstrate His Father‘s love for Him. Jesus knew His Father would not let Him fall. Instead, He “gave up” His own control and did what His Father wanted Him to do. Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7 and Deuteronomy 6:16). Finally, the devil tempted Jesus by saying if He worshiped him, he would immediately give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (vv.8-9). Instead of “giving into” and experiencing immediate gratification and bypassing His suffering and death on the cross and having to wait until His Second Coming, Jesus “gave up” His will in order to do His Father’s will and live among sinners and , not only that, die for them. Jesus said, “Away from Me, Satan! For it is written: ’Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only (v. 10 and Isaiah 9:1-2).
Luke 4:1-13 also records Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the desert. Luke 4:13 gives us a hint as to how the devil operates: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.” This tells me to always be on the lookout for Satan and his lies, especially after having a victory over him. I believe Satan tried many times to stop Jesus from doing His Father’s will. We see Satan using an “opportune time” most vividly in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is anguishing over going to the cross (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46). Matthew tells us that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times to His Heavenly Father (26:44) and each time Jesus “gave up” His will to do His Father’s will: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup to be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (v.39b). Jesus did not “give in” to His wanting there to be another way other than the cup of crucifixion. Instead, Jesus “gave up” His will for His Father’s will. And by doing His Father’s will, we who love Jesus are saved through His Perfect Sacrifice for our sins, “because by one sacrifice He [Jesus] made perfect forever those who are being made holy“ (Hebrews 10:14). During the Lenten Season, Jesus calls us to realize His holiness in a deeper and deeper way.
Jim Van Yperen, President of Metanoia Ministries, says that the opposite of “FAITH” is not “UNBELIEF“, but “CONTROL.” I agree with this statement. When we “give up” our control and not “give in” to wanting to control our own lives, we are putting our faith in God. We are “LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD…” to do what? We are LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD be in control of our lives by obeying Him and LETTING HIM accomplish His will for our lives.
So, how do we “give up” things during the Lenten Season? The answer is not eating seafood instead of meat. Why do we “give up” things in the first place? I think the answer can be found in the principle behind Ephesians 4:28: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” When we “give up” something for Lent, we need to put something else in its place that will be honoring to God and will help us grow closer to Him. For example, some people fast for a day or for a meal. Perhaps, the time spent in eating can be spent in reading the Bible and praying. If someone gives up buying Dunkin Donuts coffee, the money saved can go towards the church offering, along with one’s regular giving. If someone wants to give up watching TV, it’s not a good idea to just sit there and look at the blank screen. Instead, you can go visit someone in need or listen to a sermon on CD or read a Christian book or take a walk and talk to the Lord or listen to what He has to say to you. Ask the Lord what He wants you to “give up” in your life in order to be more like Jesus.
I asked this question to the Lord, and He used my pastor to answer me. In the beginning of last December, during the Advent Season, our pastor challenged all of us to stop gossiping and grumbling. I knew this was an area in my life I needed to “give up” to the Lord.
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus said this to the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites/bigots of the day, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings out evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account of every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37). Paul says in Philippians 2:14-16a, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life.” James, Jesus’ brother, says in his letter, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).
I know that I gossip. I know that I grumble and complain and utter thoughtless and useless words that drip with negativity and display a judgmental attitude toward others. These words are not honoring to God and I am giving them up to God; asking Him to take over the control of the words that come out of my mouth. During this Lenten Season, I will be sharing what God is doing in this area in my life with all of you. In the meantime, whenever I “give into” the temptation to speak thoughtlessly, I stop and pray, “O Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Praise God! He answers this prayer each time, “Yes daughter, I do have mercy on you because My Son died for you and you are now my child and I love you.”