Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent–a time of spiritual preparation for the Easter season. Easter is a celebration, but Lent is for repentance and serious spiritual self-examination. Let this day lead you to cry out to God.
Typically, in an Ash Wednesday ceremony believers will receive a mark, usually in the shape of a cross, made up of palm branch ashes, oil and sometimes water. The ashes were produced by burning the palm branches used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday ceremony, reminding us that the same crowd who waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna,” is the same who only a week later shouted, “Crucify!”
Ash Wednesday and Lent urge us to contrition, but how should we act? The Bible describes times when penitents would dress in sackcloth and dust themselves with ashes (Esther 4:1-3). However, please balance that with the warning Jesus gave about showing off your penitential deeds to be seen by others such as putting on a gloomy face and looking unkempt as you fast and pray (Matthew 6:16-19).
So what can you do? Isaiah 58 speaks clearly about what God find most needed from believers during this season. Read the following, ask God what He wants from you. Don’t be too quick to try to serve God in ways that often have seeds of selfishness. Ask God and then obey Him.
“Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 “Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
10 And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
11 “And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.