Ash Wednesday Devotion
| Mar 2, 2022
40 Days of Prayer content is intended for Monday through Saturday each week. Devotions are available on Ash Wednesday and Sundays to prepare for the week ahead.
My first job in high school was at Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips, a fast-food place in Phoenix. I remember one day a woman came up to my register with a smudge on her forehead. I rubbed my own forehead with my hand to signal to the woman she had something on her face that she might want to tend to—like you do when someone has mustard on their mouth after a bite. Then I noticed several people behind her with the same smudge and figured there must be more to this. I asked a fellow employee who had worked at this restaurant over a year and he explained it was ashes, it was on purpose, and it had to do with religion. That satisfied my curiosity for the time being.
Years later, after I encountered Jesus through hearing the gospel and gave my life to him, my church promoted their Ash Wednesday service. Being new to my faith, I attended not understanding exactly what to expect. The pastor presented the church liturgical calendar focusing in on the season of Lenten, or Lent, as a time of prayer, almsgiving (service), and fasting. He explained fasting as clearing out anything that cluttered my mind, body, or soul of whatever might get in the way of serious and solemn contemplation of the life, and even more so, the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a Christ-follower, centering our life on him is a daily practice. However, during Lent, we lean into this relationship with intentional acts of surrender and reflection.
We posture ourselves to encounter Jesus through humility, self-awareness, and self-denial. The beginning of this season is marked by Ash Wednesday. In Old Testament times people used ashes as a sign of repentance. They did this as an outward sign of an inward posture of acknowledging and turning away from sin and back to God. We see this in Daniel 9.
“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.”
Ashes are also a reminder of our mortality (ashes to ashes, dust to dust), and our desperate need for Jesus. Receiving the ashes symbolizes our plea to God for mercy and compassion, pardon and forgiveness. When we go forward to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are saying we are sorry for our sins and we will use the season of Lent to turn back to God. Ashes are placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross to remind us that is where our sin was dealt with, once and for all.
Now when I see people with ashes in the sign of a cross on their foreheads each year, I silently pray for them and hope they are doing the same for me as we pass one another. We understand what we are publicly acknowledging with our smudge. We are making it known that we are far from perfect, we can’t save ourselves, and we carry the greatest hope within us. We are promising to use this time in prayer, service, fasting, and reflection to grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with pure hearts and great joy.
Pastor of Discipleship Materials & Small Groups
Whether you receive ashes or not on Ash Wednesday, what would the smudge in the sign of a cross symbolize for you?
As I enter into this season, search my heart, my life, and my mind; convict me of anything separating me from you. I will confess each failure, every temptation I’ve succumbed to, and my thoughts that are contrary to your holiness and ask for forgiveness and mercy. I come before you with complete humbleness, acknowledging my desperate need for you. Thank you for your Son, who makes a way back to righteousness before you. It is not in my power (for I have none) but in your power of grace I pray.
Read all of 40 Days of Prayer at easter.crossings.church.