"Mommy, that man has dirt on his face." That was the comment my son made one Ash Wednesday as we were out shopping.
Glancing at the man I realized the "dirt" my son saw was actually an ash cross on the man's forehead.
I tried the best I could to explain to my then four year old what the ash cross represented.
Perhaps like my son you don't quite understand the significance of Lent.
Lent began in the early church as a time of teaching new Christian's what following Christ meant. At that time new believers were baptized on Easter Sunday, so the forty days before Easter were used to prepare them for that baptism.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when ashes from the palm branches waved in church on Palm Sunday are spread on the forehead in the shape of a cross. This is done as a reminder of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before.
The ashes remind us that we are but dust and quickly fall short of God's standard.
The cross reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.
The forty days of Lent remind us of the forty days of temptation Jesus underwent in the wilderness after His baptism.
The fact that the ashes used are from palm branches waved the previous Palm Sunday serve as a reminder of how quickly we turn away from our Savior.
There are actually forty-six days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The six Sunday's are times of celebration when we remember the resurrection of Jesus.
"That man wants everyone to know he is honoring God during this time of year." I explained to my son as we made our way to the car.
"What does honor mean?"
"Honor means that we respect God, we obey Him, we want to please Him."
How do you honor God during Lent?
Here are three ways to honor God this Lenten season.
1) We honor God through fasting.
Traditionally Lent has been a time of fasting, giving up something physical in order to grow spiritually.
Giving up something we usually depend on enables us to see how much we need God.
"My knees are weak from fasting, I am skin and bones. I am a joke to people everywhere; when they see me, they shake their heads in scorn. Help me, O Lord my God! Save me because of Your unfailing love." Psalm 109:24-26
2) We honor God through repentance.
Lent is also a time to ponder the sin we engage in daily.
As we fast and pray we become more attuned to the Spirit's voice and can more easily see our own sin.
Seeing Jesus eating with tax collectors and other sinners, the Pharisees complained asking Him why He ate with such scum. Jesus answered:
"Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent."
3) We honor God through giving.
Lent should be a time of inner reflection and outward giving.
As we fast and pray, repenting of our sin, the natural progression is to reach out to others.
God told the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah:
"No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind." Isaiah 58:6-8
Keeping our eyes on Jesus as He travels toward the cross will enable us to see clearly His lavish love for us. This Lenten season let's honor God through fasting, repentance, and giving and see how light our hearts become in just forty short days!
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the sin that so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2
(If you would like help concentrating your heart this Lenten season, please visit my web shop where you can purchase "40 Target Devotions and Prayers for Lent". These cards are designed to help you draw closer to God with a Bible passage and devotion to read and thought provoking questions on the front, and a prayer on the back.)