Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday is the day that many Christian denominations will once again begin the observance of Lent. During Lent we begin a 40 day preparation for Easter. While the Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.
Of course we all know our Lord Himself spent 40 days in the desert fasting. Growing up as a Catholic, I long ago grew accustom tochoosing something to “give up” or fast from during the Lent. As a child I would usually simply give up things like candy or soda. As an adult I would still often choose to fast from some specific food often coffee but I would also spend the Lenten seasondeeper in prayer, I would attempt to makeweek day mass a few times each week and in general I would try to draw closer to God.
Well this year as I have been preparing for Lent, I was struck by one of the readings for Ash Wednesday from Psalm Ps 51:3-6ab, 12-14 and 17. Let’s take a close look at this together:
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
These verses sum up for me the essence of the Lenten journey. We begin Lent by first acknowledging we are sinners. We ask God to wash away our guilt. We ask God for His mercy and compassion. Then we ask Him for a clean heart and steadfast spirit. But we conclude by asking God to give us back the full joy we have lost through our sins and to then keep His praises on our lips. I was really struck by those last two lines. I thought to myself, are the Lord’s praises always on our lips? Are we willing to share our love for the Lord with others? As I was contemplating these questions my wife shared an idea she had about what she was planning to do during Lent. Her idea combined, with the call to proclaim God’s praise, gave me the idea for today’s 4thdayletter.
Would you join me this Lent by making time for keeping God’s praises on your lips? I want to invite all of you to join my wife and me in this Lenten commitment. In addition to fasting, we are also going to write 40 letters, one on each day of Lent to 40 different people. In our letters, (or emails) we are going to mention to the person to whom we are writing, that we made a commitment to God as part of our Lenten preparation this year, to write a letter to 40 people that God has blessed us with to have in our life and let them know they are one of those people. We will tell that person of our faith in Jesus Christ, and that we believe that this person has been a gift or blessing from God in our life. Then we will share with them how they have blessed us.
This will truly give us the opportunity to keep His praises on our lips. It gives us an opportunity to share our love for Christ. It gives us a chance to witness our faith. It gives us a chance to bring joy to another person. It gives us a chance to mention Lenten preparation and maybe that will inspire them to also prepare for Easter. Christ is love, and these letters will allow us to share His love.
Finally, let this letter serve as my letter to you. Each one of you who read these 4thdayletters is a blessing in my life. I never would have guessed that something that started so small would end up touching people around the world. I am blessed by your many heart felt responses each week, and I am blessed each time you forward these emails on to others to help them on their Christian journey. I pray that God will more deeply reveal Himself to you this Lent. Write down your list of 40 people today, begin your letters tomorrow and allow God’s praises to be always on your lips!
Lord I know I am a sinner. Please be merciful to me and wash away my guilt. Create in me a clean heart this Lenten season. But Lord most importantly I thank you for the joy of salvation which you won for us on the cross. May I never stop praising you Lord, Amen!