Day 1 – Repentance/Ash Wednesday
As we begin this journey with God in the wilderness, we start on a day that has been set aside in the church for roughly one thousand years – Ash Wednesday. Today marks the beginning of this 40 Day fast leading up to Easter in which we are invited to intentionally enter a wilderness as Jesus did in Matthew 4. Ash Wednesday is an invitation to prepare our hearts for the journey. To stop and wonder about the path ahead. C. S. Lewis commented that lent is a season of “wonder that makes you serious.” In this, we can move toward understanding the gravity of the wilderness because wonder means that we don’t have it all figured out. Wonder is an invitation to ask: what I am being invited into? What do I need to notice? How is God at work in this season?
The specific invitation of lent is to engage in spiritual practices that will open ourselves to a gracious God who desires for us to be able to respond to Him with our whole hearts. More than anything, it is the practice of releasing our notions of “knowing” as we release our dependence on self and what we think we know. We release self-determined action and receive spirit-led response to God and what He is doing. As Jesus entered His 40 days, we read that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (Matthew 4:1)
This leads us to consider the Ash Wednesday practice of repentance. While the word repentance is often thought of in very harsh terms and may conjure up images of preachers holding signs on a street corner that say “repent” as they yell at people and their sinful ways, repentance is actually one of the most beautiful words in all of God’s word. The Greek word for repentance means to have a change of mind. As we are moving down a certain path, repentance is the gracious invitation from God in which we see things differently and change our mind about our direction. In thinking about a journey, to repent is to realize that you are not on the right trail or path, to step off that path, and then to remember once again the path the Lord has designed for you.
But how do we know the path the Lord has designed? The prayer of Psalm 119:105 proclaims “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The imagery is clear that we can know the path through God’s word to us, and the imagery of the lamp suggests that it is only enough light to see our feet and the path right before us. Certainly, there are many specific things that the Scriptures to do not address and this leads us to other half of knowing the path: through the Holy Spirit. The prayer of Psalm 143:10 requests “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” The Holy Spirit may use God’s word to prompt us toward us repentance or He may lead us through that quiet whisper we read about in 1 Kings 19. Either way, our response is to have a change of mind, to repent … to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. In this way, repentance is indeed a beautiful invitation.
And, we might also say that repentance is a way of life. We are invited to constantly notice and listen, step off the path, and remember or reorient. This is a rhythm and a spiritual muscle we can develop. And, that repentance muscle is so needed in the wilderness. In a space or season where we are frequently confused, often discouraged, and sometimes angry, the gift of being able to notice the Spirit’s leading and adjust the way we are walking is grace upon grace.
In Ephesians 5:1, we are encouraged to “walk in love as Christ loved us.” However, there are so many obstacles on the journey and the Apostle Paul challenges us to “awake, O sleeper” (vs. 14) because of the very real possibility that we are sleepwalking without an awareness of where we are and what the heart of God is for us. In the very next verse, we read “Look carefully how you walk” (v. 15) which is followed by “be filled (or, led) by the Spirit.” (v. 18)
Based on this, let me suggest a repentance rhythm of reflect, release, and remember. When we noticed we’ve fallen asleep (i.e., not walking in love), we can awaken as we reflect on what’s going on in our hearts, release that which is not love or trust, and remember the path that honors the heart of God and our design.
Question for reflection: are there ways in which you have been sleepwalking? Ask the Spirit to search your heart and show you ways you have not been on the path.
Prayer: Lord, today, give me eyes to see those place where I can repent. I thank you for your kindness in repentance and invitation to come back over and over again. Give me strength to live into the truth of who I am. Amen.