Ash Wednesday, February 17
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive. (Joel 2:12-13)
The journey through Lent requires putting the self aside. God made us all, and God made us good. And yet, we are completely dependent upon God’s mercy as we go about our lives.
I used to work in a theological school. Often, when students shared about their lives and what brought them to ministry, their stories took my breath away. With torn hearts, their response to the brokenness of the world was to study and prepare for a life of ministry and leadership. They felt calls that were deeply personal, while also coming directly from God. They knew God was the one who changed their hearts.
We are not saved by our own strength, our own works, or our own ambitions. Our salvation comes from God in Jesus Christ. And the wondrous thing is that God continually welcomes us back, even as we turn away and focus on what we can do for ourselves rather than what God does for us. When we start to become aware of God working in our lives, we see how we have been shown mercy over and over again.
Prayer: God, in this Lenten season, open my eyes to how you have shown mercy to me.
Thursday, February 18
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)
Some people have the ability to recalibrate their perspective and their emotions through willpower. I, however, do not—I find that when my mind is running to and fro, I must look outside of myself for peace. I am not able to create peace for myself; I must turn to God through prayer and worship, hearing God’s voice in the voice of others.
Today’s scripture is a request for mercy—the psalmist is asking for mercy and restoration from God, like a fresh start for a new season. Part of asking for mercy is the urgent request for God to draw closer, rather than to create a distance from God.
Mercy is not a one-time experience. We experience mercy continuously because God is consistently faithful to us. It is truly a gift to be able to turn to God and ask for mercy. What does it mean for you when you ask God for a new, faithful spirit? Are you trying to turn away and repent from previous ways of living? Is your mind ruminating on things that are not good for you or helpful for your mental well-being? Do you feel like you are separated from God?
Prayer: Lord, give me a clean heart again.
Friday, February 19
God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)
It is a heady thought that God is proud of us as God’s creation. I know that my mind and heart are self-centered. Even when I do something intended to be of service to another, I am often thinking about my role in the act and how I will look to others by being so selfless. Talk about having an inward focus when doing outwardly good!
Mercy is what God gives us every single day, even when we are ruled by our own desires. God knew and knows now that we are bound by our own egos when it comes to saving ourselves. This becomes glaringly obvious as we age or if we get sick—we realize that our own mortality is much closer than we pretend it to be, and nothing we can say or do can erase that truth. But even more than that, our own mortality gets wrapped up in our attempts to “be holy” on our own—without God’s intercession.
How do God’s actions in your life bring you closer to righteousness? How does your mortality change how you think of God’s righteousness? Perhaps accepting God’s mercy could change how you view yourself.
Prayer: May your mercy fall upon me, O God, and may I become covered in your righteousness.
Saturday, February 20
“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Our mortality is ever apparent when we restrict parts of our life in order to become more virtuous or perceived as in control or religious. I am struck by how we connect physical appearance, and especially thinness, with morality and self-control. Obsessing over fitness, diet, and health—turning them into performances—can open the door to disordered thinking, eating, and practices.
Sometimes Lent becomes a way for us to say that we are focusing on our faith, but instead we are simply looking for a lever or rationale to “perform” health and wellness. When this happens, I suspect that there is a part of us that is hoping that if we “just do the right things,” then we can escape some part of our own mortality. God shows us mercy when we fall into thinking that we can save ourselves. Even though we may forget that God is the One who saves us, God still offers us mercy.
Prayer: Help me to remember that you hold my salvation, O God.