By Kelly Wright
Many years ago, I resolved to have my last Diet Coke on December 31. I wanted to rid my life of caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and my daily stops through the McDonald’s drive-thru. I kept that goal for quite a while, that was until my family ordered pizza one night and man, a Diet Coke sounded so good. My daily relationship with Diet Coke began again and McDonald’s was happy for my return. This relationship lasted several more years. However, on my birthday in 2019, I considered my goals and health and once again, *sigh* I knew it was time to say goodbye to Diet Coke. I haven’t been back – at least not yet.
Are you a resolution kind of person? Does New Year’s Eve create a pause for you to consider needed changes? At the beginning of the week, do you feel the need to reevaluate the way you do or think about something, to recalibrate? Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and it is one of those days to create a pause or a space to consider places of recalibration through the spiritual disciplines of fasting, reflection, and repentance.
Fasting, reflection, and repentance may seem like odd invitations to consider. They probably aren’t subjects we think about much, let alone talk about. But I think this year in particular, amidst the chaos of an unsettling world, there is a spiritual pull towards reflection and recalibration.
I encourage you to pause this Ash Wednesday and reflect on your relationship with God. Today is a resolution kind of day, to reflect and be honest with God and yourself about your relationship with Him. It may seem like a really weighty concept, but hold tight and keep reading. Even though Ash Wednesday seems dark and maybe even discouraging, it can be Day One of a new chapter in your story. And who among us isn’t in need of a new chapter? I know I am.
The past year has left many of us feeling disconnected from others, from God. Our normal rhythms of relating have been thrown off course. Going to church, small group, Bible study, volunteer opportunities, and even hanging out with friends has been replaced with social distancing and canceled plans, leaving us feeling very disconnected from God and one another. Ash Wednesday is a day to name those places of disconnection, to begin from a place of recalibration: to start anew.
King David serves as a guide for us today as we consider our personal places of disconnection and places of recalibration. David’s writing in Psalm 51 is considered foundational Scripture for Ash Wednesday. He wrote this Psalm after being confronted about a moral failing – an affair and a murder that he was attempting to cover up. When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan, David’s heart was filled with sorrow and repentance. David then wrote in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
David gives us three steps to consider as we reflect on our relationship with God through repentance, recalibration, and starting anew.
- The first step David took was to be honest with God about his sin. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what was evil in your sight.” To be brutally honest with God, David first had to be brutally honest with himself.
- For you, have there been areas God has been trying to get your attention? Sins or attachments to things that aren’t of God? Where might you be struggling with the three temptations of performance, possessions, or popularity? (See last week’s Lent blog)
The really amazing thing about our relationship with God is that He created us to be attached to Him. He has placed a God shaped void in our lives that only He can fill. But we are human and prone to try filling our lives with any and everything but God. But the really, really amazing thing about God is that He loves us so much, He keeps pursuing us, even when we’ve gone our own way time and time again. God chases after us out of nothing but pure love for us. And not only does God pursue us, but His forgiveness is always available to us. David says, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; my sacrifice, O God, is a broken and contrite heart.” God doesn’t want us to clean up our lives and then reconnect with Him. God wants us to bring our broken lives to Him so that He can renew and restore us. So today, would you consider having a brutally honest look at your spiritual walk and see the ways God is inviting you to recalibrate through repentance? Today could be the start of a very life-giving chapter of your story!
- The second step David took was to turn over his heart to God. David asked God to create in him a pure heart and renew his spirit. Ever feel like you’ve gone too far for God to be able to do anything with you? You are not alone. Left to our own abilities, we come up short every single time. But David shows us that part of reconnecting with God is to simply show up and let God do His work in us. God longs to renew and redeem us, He’s the God that restores us. We just have to be willing to turn to Him and allow Him to do the work in our lives, to let God be in the driver’s seat of our lives. With this in mind, would you consider asking God to do for you what He did for David? “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
- The third step David took was to live in God’s steadfast love. As we detach from and recognize the areas we are getting stuck in our spiritual walk (like performance, possessions, and popularity), we allow space to attach to God’s love in ever-deepening ways. When we try to fill our lives with these things that only leave us wanting more, God invites us to let go and experience His never-ending love. David knew that he was deeply loved by God and it took that knowledge of love for David to experience true repentance and confession of all the wrongs he had done. Living in God’s steadfast love and forgiveness gave David a renewed spirit and a restoration of joy. Romans 8:31-39 gives us this most excellent reminder of God’s love:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. But unfortunately our sin creates a disconnection from God, which can make it feel like we are separated from His love. God never moves away from us. His steadfast love endures forever. Consider today God’s never-ending, steadfast love for you. What would it be like to live from this place of being steadfastly loved by God?
As you consider being honest with yourself and God, asking God to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you, living in God’s steadfast love, may today be a start to a spiritual recalibration that is life-giving and life-changing. Remember that God does the work as you turn over your life to Him. May this season of Lent be a new start of a deeper connection with God. I leave you with this prayer:
Holy Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. I confess that I have fallen short of your glory and without your mercy and grace, I would be nothing. I’m turning my heart over to you and asking you to renew in me a clean and pure heart. Give me the joy of your salvation and allow me to see where I am attached to things of this world. During this season of Lent, help me attach to you and you alone. Help me, by your Holy Spirit, to be honest with myself and you. Help me, by your Holy Spirit, to live in your steadfast love. Thank you, Lord, that Easter is coming! Death has no sting, no victory, because of Jesus! From dust, we might have been formed, but our bodies, our spirits, ourselves, await beautiful redemption and the restoration of all things. Help us long and look forward to that day, and let it come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Looking for a daily devotion to enhance your season of Lent? Email me (Kelly Wright) and I’ll send you a copy of Not by Bread Alone, by Mary Poust.