All across America, the last two days have been significant periods for people of faith. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, was a day many indulged–watching their last favorite shows before banning them for six weeks; getting sick off of grease, Swedish Fish, chips, and caffeine. All just to make it in time for yesterday, Ash Wednesday, where many walked into any open church to get their commemorative ashes placed on their head, and leave with a smile back to work, some saying to themselves “now the office will know that I’m a real Christian.” Hopefully, as you left the sanctuary, you greeted your neighbor with the only salutations appropriate for the occasion:
Others took the sanctuary of “The Gospel According to Facebook” and declared what they were going to give up, some of them even turning down the ever so tempting plate of social media. Yes, it is that time ladies and gents: Lent. Not every denomination celebrates it, but for individuals that do, Ash Wednesday officially kicked off the 40 days (not including Sundays) set aside leading up to our Savior’s Resurrection. The ritual is supposed to be one of fasting, repentance, moderation, and spiritual discipline. But as I reflect on the humiliation, trial, persecution, and crucifixion of Christ, I realize that this time should be much more than turning off reality tv for a little bit.
The Word makes it clear that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). I know that there are some areas in my life where I need to focus on simply obeying God’s teachings, instead of me hand-picking which things Imma give up for 40 days (just to run right back to it when Lent is over). And sure, to fully fulfill His will in my life, there will be things that by default I will not engage in, or that I will make the decision to turn down, but that is not because I need to prove to myself that I can commit to my own self-inflicted denial of Jelly Bellys; it is because getting closer to God is an investment. Time must be created to read His teachings; time must be invested to apply His commandments; time must be set aside…just to listen.
So this lent season, I’m going to let the Spirit lead my fasting and moderation, instead of me just cancelling things out without any deeper reason than denial. Starting yesterday, I adopted a 40 day devotional plan as a start. And I did go to the grocery store last night and stocked up on more of the healthy foods that should be the norm, not the exception. I want whatever I focus on this season to have permanence in my life moving forward. And I also looked up the passages that referred to “ashes” in the Bible (because if you are going to do something you should know why, right?). Newsflash to some: the Bible does not call for Lent at all–that is a man-made tradition. But if you are curious to know where references of ashes are made, check out the following: 2 Samuel 13;19; Esther 4;1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21. Also note that many of these passages involve mourning and repenting. Ashes were a symbol of grave sin, mortality, and humiliation, The characters in the Bible all did not share the same trauma, but they did share the desire to express to God how serious they were about making a change, and how far they were willing to go to be closer to God. I wonder how far we would be as a church if instead of focusing on just turning down food, tv, and material items, we turned down pride, and ego, and envy, and attitudes, and sideeyes, and gossiping, and lying, and self-pity, and…
The more mature I become in the Lord, I realize that I do no one a favor by turning down something temporarily that was never a benefit, or turning down something I wasn’t really going to miss anyways. Perhaps this season should not be viewed as just a time of “turning down.”
We all need to #turnup4Him.
1) Read a bible verse per day, and find a commentary or summary on that passage to increase understanding;
2) Reprogram your Spotify; add one song of faith and substance per day and reflect on what the message is behind the music (notice I didn’t just say “Gospel,” because not all songs that say “Lord” actually edify the temple);
3) Keep a journal of prayers, requests, and/or desired areas of spiritual repentance. Meditate on those things.
4) Really get to know about the symbol of the cross, and even the importance of the ashes–and how amazing it is the God would use symbols of disgrace–and apply grace–to make us graceful on the other side.