Granted, there are moralistic ways to do this, and Jesus quoted the Old Testament toward such folks: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." But what I am coming to appreciate more and more is not what people give up for Friday's or for a week -meat, their cell phones, television, etc.- but rather what the concept of lenten sacrifice, to me, points to: the respiration of faith.
Eugene Peterson's book, The Jesus Way, has unwrapped the nut of what I'm getting at in the first chapter, where he looks at the way in which Abraham exemplifies the way... the way of faith. His ultimate point is that faith, the walk of faith, is something that has movement. We are constantly moving from somewhere to somewhere, and that involves leaving things behind and moving to something new. Think of how lightly you would pack if you knew you were moving every day!
"Abraham did not become out exemplar in faith by having it explained to him but by engaging in a lifetime of travel, life on the road, daily leaving something of himself behind (self-sovereignty) and entering something new (God-sovereignty).
Sacrifice is to faith what eating is to nutrition... Faith, of which Abraham is our father, can never be understood by means of explanation or definition, only in the practice of sacrifice. Only in the act of obedience do we realize that sacrifice is not diminishment, not a stoical 'This is the cross I bear' nonsense. It does not result in less joy, less satisfaction, less fulfillment, but in more -but rarely in the ways we expect." (p. 51)
The concept of sacrifice is the heart and soul of a life of faith -leaving the old and moving to the new. It isn't something we do to pay God back nor to stoically punish ourselves. It is the result of being present before God as He is present before us and walking expectantly toward His brighter and broader vistas. We do not depart from Ur for the sake of proving our devotion but because we believe God -that He has something better for us.
Following Jesus, a life of faith, calls us to do this on many levels. This is part of what defines a truly personal, Jesus-based life of faith (the other part being utter dependence upon Him as the righteousness we stand upon). We rest upon, follow, and love a Person, not an idea or a system or an organization. It separates it from the many who talk about "having faith" as if it were a thing, merely one ingredient of many toward a happy, self-sovereign life, an object in itself -like having a dog or a hobby or a regular exercise plan. We are called to sacrifice, toward leaving and going, both on the micro level, in daily decisions, and on the macro level, with the overall direction and passions and desires of life. Life becomes one grand journey away from our little kingdoms of self, with our lust and self-defined treasures, toward God's kingdom where He and His ways become our greatest treasure. It is a journey of being called and following, and in the process we leave things behind.