Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace
Ash Wednesday and Lent meant nothing until late in high school. I had become a follower of Jesus and our youth group took part in an Ash Wednesday service to remember a couple core truths about ourselves and God:
- We are dust and dust we will return.
- We are sinners and need to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus died for us, rose for us, forgives us, and loves us.
The youth group and church I participated in were not Roman Catholic and nothing in Scripture demanded we take part in Ash Wednesday or Lent. But we did.
We did it because life is short. Because our lives don’t always match up to our confession in Christ. We did it because our hearts long to know Christ and live in his Kingdom in deeper ways. We took part because our generation lacks roots and grounding in anything from the past.
Ash Wednesday and Lent (where does it come from?)
Ash Wednesday marks forty days before Resurrection Sunday what we call the Lenten season on the church calendar. Historically Lent has been practiced to remember two significant biblical events in the life of God’s people:
- The forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert and was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4).
- The forty days Moses fasted and prayed when receiving the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:27-28).
Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent with reminding ourselves we are dust and shadows and need a Savior. Our hearts are fickle and cold and wander from Christ and his ways. Lent is a time of repentance and examination and fasting.
While Lent is not a demand of Scripture, we need it. Many churches practice Lent to reset our hearts toward God. Our generation is one that lacks roots and meaning and purpose. We jump from one event and job and relationship to the next. We're blasted with every form of media and never pause to examine our lives before God.
In a noisy world Ash Wednesday and Lent are a means of grace. A time to pause, reflect, pray, fast, mediate on Scripture, confess, and believe the gospel. A time to get alone and honest with God and others.
Suggestions for Practicing Lent
Fast. Determine times of fasting from food throughout the weeks. If this is new for you, take it slow. Maybe fast from a meal or two. This could also include fasting from certain forms of media (TV, internet, social media, etc.)
When you fast, fill it with times of Bible reading, prayer, and confession. The point is not just to fast, the point is to grow more dependent on God.
Scripture meditation and memorization. We will memorize John 15:1-17 as a church. Use this text to meditate on and memorize as you fast. What do you see from the text? What is God saying to you? You obviously can choose other texts.
Soak in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). One great way for growing in our relationship to God is to see Jesus in the gospels. Why? If you see Jesus, you see the Father, if you see the Father, you see Jesus (see John 14). Whatever ideas we have about God are found in Christ.
Read the gospels multiple times throughout the forty days of Lent. Mark is a good place to start.
Worship with a church community. Regardless if the church does anything specific for Lent, being with other disciples of Jesus, and worshipping and learning with them is essential for life with God.
Maybe challenge yourself to participate in worship every Sunday during Lent. For many, this will be a good challenge, and habit to use.
Keep tabs in a journal. Write what you are learning, prayers, where you see sin and need of healing. It’s good to reflect not only with your mind, but with a pen, pencil, or computer. This way you can come back to it later.
Include your family. A great way to journey through Lent is with others. Talk about what Jesus is teaching you. Read the gospels together. Pray together. Confess sins to one another. Fast from media together.
Ash Wednesday and Lent is not an invitation to legalism and have-to’s. It’s an invitation for life, joy, refreshing in the Lord, and get-to’s.
Lent is a time of re-framing and re-forming our hearts towards Christ and the gospel and Kingdom. A needed rhythm in a chaotic world as we live with chaotic hearts.
May the Lord use it for our joy and his glory!