Feb. 22, 2012
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. This is a season of the Christian Year when Christians focus on simple living, prayer and fasting to grow closer to God.
For those of you who are visual learners, here is a video that explains Lent in a little over two minutes. The video goes fast. If you feel it goes too fast, I suggest taking 4.5 minutes and watch it a second time.
Lent is the 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays. It begins with Ash Wednesday, where we recognize our need for forgiveness, ask for forgiveness of our sins and return to our loving God.
During Lent, Christians historically have focused on three spiritual disciplines:
- Service through giving to the needy – Serve God these next 40 days by doing something for Christ.
- Prayer – intentionally spend more time with God. One way to do this is to start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time before you brush your teeth, check your e-mail or get out of bed. Before you have a conversation with someone (whether in person, via the phone, e-mail or texting), say a prayer for them.
- Fasting – eliminate something in your life that pulls you away from God. Historically, this is a specific food. It can also be limiting use of electronics, TV, etc. Another option is to give up an activity such as worry. Think about what you need to let go of or “fast” from to focus on God. What clutters your calendar and your life? How can you simplify your life for the next 40 days?
Life can zoom right by us. It seems the days and weeks fly by quicker each year. I’m glad there is a season of the year which encourages me to slow down, pace myself, reflect upon my inner and outer life. Lent is a gift for each of us.
We will choose how we embrace this season of the Christian year. Begin today, on Ash Wednesday, with some time to reflect upon how you might use this season. If possible, attend an Ash Wednesday service. Ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. I use ashes from last year’s palms of Palm Sunday as a symbol for reminding us how quickly palms waved in joy became ashes of sorrow.
Let us pray: Dear God, in praying ashes to ashes and dust to dust, we remember that you created us and all the earth. For the next 40 days, we want to grow closer to you. Bless me and my family. May we extend love to others. Forgive us for the ways we have hurt You, others and ourselves. Help us forgive each other. May we be encouraged by You to relish this special season and allow ourselves to be drawn closer to You, Lord God. Amen.
I invite you to journey through Lent in a daily devotional. You can sign up to receive this daily devotional in your e-mail inbox. Please share this link with others you think would enjoy journeying through Lent via this devotion.