Ashes to Ashes

Dust you are and to dust you will return.
(Genesis 3:19)

Repent and believe the good news!
(Mark 1:15)

Today Christians all over the world are observing Ash Wednesday.

What Exactly Is Ash Wednesday?

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a day of intense repentance and reflection that kicks off the Lent Season. Many gather in churches to receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads in ashes (typically from palm leaves burned after the prior year’s Palm Sunday service).

Ashes represent sorrow for sinning — or “missing the mark” on how God wants His people to live.

What Exactly Is Lent?

Lent is a 40-day period (Sundays aren’t counted) often marked by repentance, fasting and spiritual discipline leading up to Easter Sunday. Some Christians observe it. Some don’t. Some give up certain luxuries (like meat). Some don’t.

Either way, the basic message of Lent is this: God is God and we’re not. Whether or not you formally celebrate Lent, that’s always a good message to keep in mind.

What Exactly Does the Bible Say?

Neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent is specifically mentioned in the Bible.

However, the practice of repenting and mourning in ashes appears in many places in the Old Testament. See 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8 and Daniel 9:3, just to name a few.

In the New Testament, both John the Baptist and Jesus kicked off their ministries with this proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17)

Jesus also mentioned repenting in ashes when he said: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)

Why 40 Days?

The number 40 is all over the Bible. God made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights as Noah floated around in the ark (Genesis 7). Moses repented and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights after the Israelites’ debacle with the golden calf (Exodus 34). The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years as a consequence of their sins (Numbers 32). Elijah traveled for 40 days and 40 nights to meet with God on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). And Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the desert and being tempted by Satan before starting His ministry (Matthew 4).

Will Observing Lent Earn Me All Kinds of Heaven Points and Guarantee Me Eternal Life?

Nope. You can put all the ashes you want on your forehead, fast for 40 years and even give up Taco Bell for Lent (I actually did that during college thinking I was making the supreme sacrifice) but God is after something muuuuuuuch deeper than external rituals. He wants our minds. He wants our hearts. He wants our souls.

Christianity isn’t about observing religious rules religiously. It’s about relationships. And the most important one is your relationship with God.

That’s what we’re going to focus on for the next 40 days here on GUWG.

In the meantime, here’s an awesome little prayer to pray as you repent and reflect today (and every day). It was written by David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart” despite the fact that he was an adulterer and a murderer. Pray through it with all your mind, heart and soul, rejoicing in the fact that you are 100% forgiven through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned.

[SPECIFY YOUR SINS HERE]

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Amen!

(Psalm 51:1-4, 10-12)

(Image credit: Shutterstock.com)

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