Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the first day in our 40 Day Journey to Lent. In this season, we fast, we pray, we focus on Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and for the world. Ashes are symbolic for repentance. Ashes are always one of the visual concepts we see in scripture in regard to repenting of sins.
Think about how many times in scripture we see phrase “sackcloth and ashes.” Ashes remind us of the biblical admonition, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We are reminded that are frail and in need.
In a world of busyness and importance, it is so important for us to remember that we are not all that important, we are just part of God’s creation, but it is not all up to us.
We need God. We really do. Things like fasting. Discipline. Repentance, for us as Christians, these things are not optional. They are a command from Jesus Himself. Look at what Jesus tells us today in Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18:
1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
First Jesus tells us, that when we are faithful with our disciplines, we aren’t doing them for others to see, but we are doing them for God, and God alone. These things are not about us appearing holy before others, but they are about us stripping away the things that keep us from God, and living fully into our relationship with Him.
Second, we see this, fasting, prayer, these things, these are assumed to be norms for the Christian life. Look what Jesus says:
When you give alms . . .
When you pray. . .
When you fast. . .
We are supposed to remember, constantly, our need for Jesus. We can’t do it on our own. We are needful. We are frail. These disciplines aren’t about making us stronger, but they are about showing us how weak we are.
How much we need Him. How great our need for grace is. How dependent we are for His life.
Lent is not about dieting or self-improvement. It is about realizing how very much we need God and how our lives tend to pull us away from Him, over and over again. It is about realizing our need to pray. It is about opening our eyes to an awareness of Him.
It is a child, clinging tightly to the hand of their Father, when they are afraid.
Lent is about us realizing that we need God. As we fast. As we pray. As we serve. As we live. May we realize just how much we truly need God.