Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Just a few thoughts on this “Ash Wednesday…”

There’s a lot of pressure ‘round this time to give something up… to give up something in your life for Lent. I am aware that there are those who write off Ash Wednesday and Lent as merely a religious ritual. But I submit to you that there is a lot more to it. There’s potentially a lot more to any ritual really. And there is potential for meaninglessness too. We can enter this as a ritual without ever really considering the deeper meaning to what we are doing. We can enter into it obligatory; because we think we have to. If this is our attitude then it is best that we don’t give up anything. If to give up something would only be obligation and ritual then we’d best not participate. It would be unhealthy for us to do so. It would suggest that we serve a harsh and demanding God, a slave-driver who cares more that we obey Him than that our obedience be beneficial to us and our relationship with Him. To follow out of obligation would be to, at best, misrepresent the God we serve.

There is another way we can enter into this ritual. We could enter it not as a mere ritual to which we are called but we could do it reverently and responsibly. We could give up something for no other purpose than to create space for God to be fully present to us. In doing so we would portray not a salve-driving God but a God whose concern is for us not what we try to give Him.

We can enter anything we do with either of these two attitudes; ritual or reverence. Everything we do can become empty under the cloak of ritual. Our prayers, our songs, or service, etc. can be a hindrance if not done in an attitude that rightly portrays God and offers the self. If we, in depriving ourselves, are doing anything other than offering our hearts and creating space for God then we are better off not participating at all. God cares more about our hearts than He does our actions. He cares more about us than He does about our obedience, He weeps not because of disobedience but because He knows the pain disobedience brings. He does not cry because we didn’t listen to Him but He cries because we’ve not found the “way of peace.” (Luke 19.42)

This is a time where we deny ourselves something not for our selfish reasons or out of obligation. We give up something in order to remember that we are fully dependant on the Eternal God. We remember our frailty and lean on the strong shoulder of a loving God. Before you examine what you’ll give up, examine your reasons and decide if you even should consider it.

That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; instead, tear your hearts.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you. -Joel 2:12-13

7 comments:

Luthsem said...

Good thoughts Wes.
Ash Wednesday and
Lent reminds us that we depend on God for everything.

Teresa said...

Thanks. I have been struggling with giving up something and want to be obedient, but it is really hard this year--you know. First time, I think, that I have not been willing. Please pray for me.

Long ago, when my husband was a brand new Christian, I schooled him, so-to-speak, on the tradition of lent. I had previously came from a Presbyterian church so it was something that we did. Spending a whole day fasting, praying, and serving others as a group in my youth is something that is still very meaningfull to look back on. My husband asked one of our So Baptist ministers about it and his response was, "We don't do that as So. Baptists". I thought, "How sad".

BruceD said...

Oh, the things we do to try to earn our way into God's heart.

We so desperately want to become closer to God, never seeming to realize that He has been intimately close to us all along... in us, and all around us.

We go through the motions of bridging the gap between us and our Creator, but fail to see that He bridged the gap for us.

WES ELLIS said...

Teresa,
It is sad. People can get really caught up in negative perceptions about tradition. People get caught up in thinking that ritiual is evil and never realize how freeing and healthy it can be. It's a new kind of legalism. It's a legalism against tradition and in so doing it loses its conection to it's rich history.

WES ELLIS said...

Bruce,
How sad it would be to see spiritual discipline as "earning our way to God's heart." It's not so. This tradition is one that should bring freedom and give us proper perspective. If someone were to do this in order to earn something they would be better off not doing it at all.

Mike Exum said...

Wes,

Sorry to change the subject, but I think you will like the post on Two Cities this week. Very thought provoking in regard to modern/postmodern dialog.

Here is the site:

http://twocitiesblog.blogspot.com/2006/03/pomophobia-pomophilia-and-pomeostasis.html

Many blessings....

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Mike,
I'll check it out!