Your Personal Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It takes its name from the ceremonial imposition of ashes on your forehead of as a sign of human sin and mortality. This tradition goes back to the tenth century. The observance of Ash Wednesday is meant to remind you of your human condition.
Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of your personal 40-day journey (not counting Sundays) to Easter. It’s a time of reflection, introspection and repentance. A time when you acknowledge that you have fallen short of the mark. That you have attitudes, behaviors and actions in your life that separate you from God. The goal isn’t condemnation, only simple recognition. For the good news of Easter will meet you right where you are. Never forget that God will never be real to you, until you get real with God!
You might not have the opportunity to get out and participate in an Ash Wednesday service. So, I thought that I would bring Ash Wednesday to you. Use this as your personal guide for today. Take the time to reflect. Read the Bible passages and answer the questions. Prepare your heart for this season of Lent and the celebration of Easter.
“Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people— law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having me on their side. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
Well, here’s why: The bottom line on your fast days is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins. If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness. Your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew. Rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”
A moment of reflection:
Was there a phrase or thought or word in this passage that jumped out at you?
Was there something in this passage that made you feel guilty or sad or angry?
Do you feel convicted to do something, in response to what you read?
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
“We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
How? You ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; the day you needed me, I was there to help.
Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details.
People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”
A moment of reflection:
What does this passage encourage you to become?
What does this passage beg you not to do?
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—playactors I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get.
When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for fifteen minutes of fame! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you go into training inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.
Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse — stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
A moment of reflection:
Do you do what you do, as a follower of Jesus, hoping that everyone will notice and praise you for what you do?
Are you doing this Ash Wednesday devotion so that you can tell everyone that you did it or hoping that someone sees you doing it?