Ashes—a Sign of God’s Love

This is my first devotional thought as we kick off Lent 2018: Journey with Jesus and the 20/40 challenge to spend twenty minutes a day in prayer during the 40 days of Lent.*  

Why are we doing this?  After all, isn’t Lent just for Catholics or high-church people?  Isn’t this time of fasting and prayer just empty traditionalism?  My resounding answer is “NO!”  Lent developed in the early church as a time of preparation for remembering and refocusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which are central to the life of faith for all Christians.  By the 4th century AD, the western church had begun to observe 40 days of preparation to correspond to Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.  This 40-day preparation period (excluding Sundays, which are always feast-days) is an example of the wisdom of those who have come before us; we should receive such traditions with gratitude and use them to help us in our life of faith.

But what about Ash Wednesday, the day that kicks off Lent?  (Our Ash Wednesday service is at 7 pm tonight with childcare provided for infants through 4-year-olds.) Isn’t that a kind of gloomy, sad service?  Well, it depends on your point of view.  Ash Wednesday reminds us of the biblical use of ashes as a sign of our mortality, of our sin, and of our need for a Savior.  You might say, “Well, isn’t that all about what we lack?”  Absolutely, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we do lack something, many things.  We lack fulness; we lack love; we lack God’s presence in our lives; we lack God’s guidance.  God loves us with an everlasting love and desires to nurture us with that love.  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we often build walls against the love of God.  We fear his gracious acceptance, choosing rather to make our own way through life—damaging ourselves, other people, and God’s world along the way.  

I see the ashes as a sign of God’s love.  God has something better for us!  Ashes are a sign that we live in a world controlled by death and sin, but we are not denying that fact.  We are admitting it, confessing it, and opening our hearts to receive something better!  Turning away from sin isn’t about wallowing in self-loathing and guilt.  Rather, it is an invitation to turn away from lesser loves to the one pure source of love: the triune God of Heaven—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Remember this: God knows how desperately sinful and needy we are: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Our challenge now is to admit the truth that God already knows—that we desperately need God and his merciful salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So let us come with honest, but joyful hearts, into God’s presence.  And let us see the ashes of repentance as a gateway into the deep, transformative love of God!  Join us on this journey with Jesus!

* Perhaps prayer is not much a part of your life, and 20 minutes a day seems daunting.  This is why we have made available prayer guides on our website, Facebook page, on Sunday mornings, and through email.  Please take advantage of these or any other resources that you may find to help you center your thoughts on Christ and his word.

Opening Prayer (slowly, pausing as you need along the way): 

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

Psalm and Gospel for the Day (slowly read the Psalm, maybe 2 or 3 times, pausing if there is a word or phrase that stands out to you; then take that word or phrase and turn it into a prayer.  Then read the Gospel lesson.)

Feb. 14 | Psalm 130 | John 1:1-14
Feb. 15 | Psalm 37:5-11 | John 1:19-34
Feb. 16 | Psalm 95:1-7 | John 1:35-42
Feb. 17 | Psalm 42 | John 1:43-51

Personal Prayers (If you have felt God speaking from his word, respond in prayer; ask him to work in your life in specific ways.)

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer (pray it slowly and thoughtfully, thinking about ways each phrase may apply to your life today.)

Closing Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit.  We pray that your fruit would be in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.