Today is Ash Wednesday on the Christian Calendar. It begins a 40 day countdown to Easter (not including Sundays), and is generally recognized as a time of introspection and repentance where we turn away from those things that are getting between us and God.
That 40 day season is called Lent (or the Lenten Season). These 40 days are often associated with “giving up things.” Some will fast… some will give up things that mean a lot to them. But for many, life isn’t really all that different during Lent. I mean, how many people want to dedicate 40 days to being miserable?
But is that what Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about? Or is there more?
Let’s cut to the chase: most people don’t like the idea of having to give up anything. I can hear the objections now… “Why do I have to give up things that mean the most to me?”
Well, there’s the core issue. In light of the following Scripture, we have to examine what should mean the most to us:
““I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” (Ex 20:2–5a NLT)
On the surface of things, it looks like God can be petty and vain. What kind of God gets jealous and intolerant of children who worship other things?
The kind of God who sees what those other things do to us. They take us far from peace and wholeness. The come to steal and destroy. But they are subtle… slow… yet steady. These “other things” can worm their way into our daily routines and begin to suck the life out of us.
What does that look like for you? Is it:
- A focus on your bank account to provide your security?
- An emphasis on status symbols (and the debt they can require) to provide your sense of worth?
- A fear that if you’re not incredibly busy with a full calendar that you’re not important?
Not long ago, we took a look at a Rich Young Ruler. His greatest question was about eternal life, but his greatest desire was for the things of this world… “his” things. Jesus sees it immediately. “His” things are getting in the way of the Rich Young Ruler’s relationship with God. This young man is worshipping (i.e., loving) something more than God.
Jesus’ answer to the rich man is, in essence, the meaning of Lent. Search your heart… remove those things you worship more than God. Come back to the relationship that will bring you life.
What kind of God would be jealous and intolerant? The kind of God who doesn’t want to see you follow that same path, whether it’s due to money… addiction… self-worship… or anything else that would come between you. Jesus shows us this stark contrast in John:
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT)
The ashes that some Christians spread on their foreheads are rich in meaning. In ancient times, it was a sign of sorrow to wear sackcloth and pour ashes on your head.
It might have been the same sorrow that the Rich Young Ruler could have experienced if he had realized what he walked away from in that encounter with Jesus. A chance for life eternal in the company of a loving God!
But the ashes are also a reminder that everything we have in this world is temporary. Genesis 3:19 puts it this way:
“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”” (Gen 3:19b NLT-SE)
All these “things” we pursue so desperately will return to dust as well. We can’t take any of our possessions… our titles… our sense of importance with us. (Yet another reason I’m sure Jesus was puzzled by the Rich Young Ruler’s reaction).
What we can do is use our time well to build God’s Kingdom… to welcome others into the family and show them the love and provision we have received from a loving Father.
If you’ve been given much… give freely. If you are truly needy, my prayer is you would encounter someone who has taken the meaning of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent to heart.
A Prayer for Ash Wednesday
Maybe you’re not really sure where to start. How about asking for Gods help? Here’s how I’m starting this Ash Wednesday… I’d love for you to join me.
God, I’m so sorry for the things that have taken my focus away from you. Please search my heart and reveal to me anything that stands between us. Please give me the courage and strength to remove them to their rightful place in my life. Help me find the rich and satisfying life that is found in you alone. Thanks for what you’ve done for me… and thanks for what you continue to do in me. Amen!