Christianbook.com offers a free daily devotional during the Lenten season. If you happen to be a reader here, I invite you to share in this devotional journey with me. Below is Day One’s devotional. I love the writing and imagery here. Makes me want to buy the devotional book it was excerpted from!
Your Daily Lenten Devotional
February 22, 2012
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
If somebody comes to me and says, “Teach me to pray,” I say, “Be at this church at nine o’clock on Sunday morning.” That’s where you learn to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you are by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.
I am made of dust. I know because I love dusty things. When I was a boy, I played with dirt. Now that I am an old man, I pray with ashes.
I was conceived in the darkness. I know because I have always loved dark places. Even now I am too often content in the lightless little hut of my soul.
But I also know this: I was gestated in the life-giving water of my mother’s womb. I know because I thirst for the water, the living water that will bathe me, that will wash all my dust and dirt and darkness away. I long to be made clean and I dread it too, for I have been dangerously exposed to the world’s idolatrous radiations. Rough brushes and hoses are required, hard scrubbing, to peel away the poison. There are deep impurities in the ore of my soul, mined as I have been from the broken earth. I desperately need the Refiner’s fire, God’s purifying heat, to burn the carbons out of my spirit…
…The sanctuary is dark as a womb, silent as a grave. Candles chase the gloom, but shadows threaten to swallow the few who are gathered. The pastor prays:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, at the pastor’s invitation, I come to the rail and, in sure and certain hope of healing, I acknowledge my brokenness. I confess the darkness, at least as much of it as I can see, in hopes that light will soon dawn. In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection I embrace the Cross.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the pastor says, smudging my forehead with a cross of palm ash. Particles fall onto my eyelashes. “Repent, and believe the gospel.”
If I did not believe, I could not repent. If I could not repent, I could not go on. But already the ash itches. I think to reach up, to wipe it off, but kneeling here I am determined to let the cross, the ashes, do their full work. I will not try to remove them. I will try not to lay down the cross…
…Embracing the cross is hard; bearing it is harder still. The cross’s beams are rough to the touch and burdensome. We never get all the splinters out. The cross is awkward to maneuver through the house and the office, and many days almost seems to work against whoever would carry it. The cross chafes the shoulders, bends the neck–and breaks the heart. No wonder that I want to lay it aside, throw it down, unburden myself of the cross and its demands. Easier to lay aside the weight of the cross than to “lay aside [my] every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1).
But choosing the cross means life; choosing life without it means death. Only by entering the darkness can I begin to find the light…
We make vows today, pledge small dyings in hope of greater, holier living, but we do not make them in order to be seen by others. We “sacrifice,” not because God requires it, but because we desire the kind of deep intimacy only empty spaces can begin to harbor. Indeed, God has “no delight in sacrifice” (Ps. 51:16), which means to say that God does not love us more when we make sincere offerings, any more than God loves us less when we don’t, or when our gestures remain silly or superficial. But when we confess our need for God, our desire for more of God in more of us, when we create for God a space in our heart and routine–“the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit” (Ps. 51:17)–then God, I believe, is very pleased indeed…
…We pray to be emptied, that we might be filled. We pray to be enhungered, that we might be nourished on that which abides. We pray to die to self, that we might live with God at last.
Take time to write down your Lenten vow: something you will deny yourself as a kind of sacrifice; something you will take on as a kind of service. You might put that paper in your Bible, or take it with you to Ash Wednesday services and leave it at the altar.
Shadows Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus
Thomas R. Steagald
Retail Price: $15.00
CBD Price: $9.99
In Shadows, Darkness and Dawn, daily readings for the season of Lent engage us with the Gospel of John’s narratives about Jesus: the temptation in the wilderness, Nicodemus’s nighttime visit, the encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus, and the events of Holy Week. In pondering these biblical events you’ll be drawn to purposeful Lenten reflection.
Used with the kind permission of our friends at Upper Room Books.