As a Protestant, and Baptist at that, I have only participated in an Ash Wednesday service where I received the imposition of ashes one time. It was a sobering event. The minister shared the words of Genesis 3:19 as she put the ashes on my flesh, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
Could any verse more fully capture the morbidity of our condition? And that’s the point, isn’t it? To be reminded, as we begin the Lenten journey, of our humanity and it’s limited length of days. We are to be reminded of our complete and total dependence upon a Savior who provides us with both a newness and wholeness of life, even as he prepared to lay down his life for we dusty disciples.
The month of December has been full in our household this year – full of varied events, concerns, prayers – full of waiting, as is typical of Advent. But the waiting this year has felt more complex and stirred a different response than many an Advent time of preparation. It’s been the waiting of sleepless nights and early mornings and days so full you find yourself living in the moment. It’s been a mixed-bag season of waiting and preparation – of prayers offered and answered. Perhaps it’s best explained through the metaphor of the muddled messages in my December inbox.
December has long seen an increase in the volume of mail one receives in his or her inbox. Whether we are talking about your literal USPS mail box, your email box, or the varied other means by which persons communicate these days (instant messenger, text or other Social Media); inboxes are generally stuffed during December. They contain a myriad of sales advertisements, the usual bills, flyers from local businesses, year end political reports, holiday event notices – and then there are the Christmas greetings. Yes, we still receive a number of cards each December and send several ourselves; even though the trend in Christmas card giving has decreased overall. Picking up the mail on a December afternoon, at the end of the drive way or through one’s email provider, can bring a smile to your face as you read greetings, view pictures and reconnect with friends from miles away to right next door.
If you were to come up with a top ten list of things for which you are grateful, what would be on your list? The Thanksgiving season is a great time to give some thought to this list. But do me a favor. Don’t just write out, or mentally check off, the expected list. Put some thought and creativity into the list. Go beyond the one word or simple phrase list to expound in a few more words what you are thankful for in 2019.
A few years after I listened to a podcast on The Lord’s Prayer by Adam Hamilton, I changed how I pray this final phrase of Jesus’ prayer. Hamilton suggested that we put a comma (,) after the words “Lead us,”. When you do this it changes the way you hear and pray this phrase.
How often do you ask the Lord to lead in your life? You may feel you do that fairly often. But when I’m honest, I am more likely to tell the Lord what I need and see if God will follow my lead. Are you? By inserting this comma after “lead us”, I have been reminded to seek God’s leading. I will even sit in silence sometimes, having been invited to pause by that comma, to consider what it is I need God’s leadership in that day or moment. I invite you to try it.
Most of us are all for forgiveness as it concerns our need to be forgiven by God, through Christ, for our sins. But, if we are honest, we’d likely prefer that the forgiveness be “unconditional” in nature. That is, we understand and appreciate that nothing we can do will earn or purchase the forgiveness of God’s grace as it is so generously poured out on us by Jesus.
So, why is it that when it comes to praying for forgiveness, in the prayer taught his disciples, Jesus makes it a “conditional” request? Do you remember this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer?: Forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us.