By John Scofield — Minister, serving on Herald and Banner Press Board of Publications
This year, I really missed the community Ash Wednesday service of which I had been a part for several years. What about you? Do you avoid it because it seems foreign? Too high church? Theologically, maybe the thought of an ash cross on your forehead seems like an unbiblical addition to salvation. Pragmatically, maybe you do not want to deal with ash stains in the carpet. Whatever Ash Wednesday may mean within various denominations, I am a firm believer that you get out of a service what you put into it.
The Psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”(Ps. 139:24). Ash Wednesday begins a forty day period of reflection, prayer, and fasting focusing on Jesus Christ’s life and suffering leading up to the Cross. This should be a time of self-examination. Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” What will you give up this Lenten season? Steak? Rocky road ice cream? Your favorite TV show? Listening to your favorite CD? How cheap! Instead, how about giving up grumbling in order to be thankful. How about giving up some sleep to spend extra time in prayer. How about not looking at people’s worst points but instead looking to see what is good about them. How about avoiding criticism in favor of giving complements. Give up hatred; forgive. Release your fears, and learn to trust. Give up judging by appearances and search yourself. Perhaps most importantly (and this shows my Wesleyan heritage), give up the right to yourself. Give God your all — no reservations — completely consecrate and yield yourself to Him.
God is not concerned with chocolate and CDs. He is concerned with what is going on in our hearts. The apostle Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). Prepare for Easter by giving God the offering of yourself.
Prepare for Easter by looking deep into your heart to think about how you have been living your life. Has the Lord put his finger on some issue? Is there something you need to quit or give up? Jesus will forgive that sin and wash it away at the Cross. He promises to empower you with the Holy Spirit to live a new life that glorifies Him. I encourage you to incorporate Ash Wednesday into your schedule next year. Let the ashes be a reminder that you have died to sin and its excuses.