Ash Wednesday – Stop Now

IMG_3398It snuck up once again, this beginning of the season of Lent. I’m tempted to just overlook it and continue barreling through the coming weeks with the multitude of tasks on my list. What about you? Have you stopped for this day?

As I see it, I’m not ready to step back and reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. I should have planned better and worked harder over the past weeks so I could have time to spend more time in prayer, Bible study, or even in gatherings of other believers. However, that’s not the point. Lent isn’t about being ready to reflect, it’s about reflecting in the midst of our harried lives.

In one of the readings for this day, from the second chapter of Joel, we see God calling people to gather to him, to turn and repent. Not when they are ready, but now. Now when a baby is nursing. Now when a wedding is about to take place. Now when we are running off to our next meeting.

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
    gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
    assemble the elders;
gather the children,
    even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her chamber.
– Joel 2:15-16

So, today it is time to turn even if we are not ready. There is no better time. Waiting for a project to be completed or a relationship to heal will only lead to more work that requires more waiting and one more thing to prepare. Neither does God want us to wait to figure out world hunger or the latest political maelstrom. All he wants is our hearts as they are now – no matter how broken and withered they may be. In actuality we will never have any thing worthy to offer him that he hasn’t already showered upon us in his mercy.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.
– Joel 2:12-13

It is our hearts he wants and he wants them so he can change them and so he can turn us towards him and out to help the world. If we seek to do either of these things on our own, we will only fall. The surprising thing is that as we acknowledge this, God comes to us in his mercy. His Spirit fills us and in this Spirit we live.

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
– Joels 2:28-29

So, it turns out that preparing for Ash Wednesday would have gotten me started on the wrong foot. I would have thought I was in control and had something to offer. Now, all I can do is trust that God will care for these projects, or let them go, as I take time to stop and look at him. This time reminds me who I am and helps me to step out of my self-sufficient ways.

How will you spend this day and the next forty of Lent?

  • poetry
  • scripture
  • prayer
  • worship service
  • coffee with a friend
  • museum visit
  • walk in nature
  • service to neighbors

Whatever the choice, I encourage us all to stop what we are doing in the midst of life, stop now, even just for a few moments, to find ways to connect with God anew and to relish his grace and mercy poured over us.

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