Here are some thoughts I shared with my church, Beachside Community Church, as we approach Ash Wednesday:

This Wednesday, at 7pm, we’ll have a worship service marking the beginning of a period in the Church Year called “Lent.”

Why do we do it, and what is Ash Wednesday? Since we’re an evangelical community church, and not Roman Catholic, what is this all about?

First of all, traditions are helpful if they draw us closer to God and reinforce the Gospel. Likewise, traditions begun with the best of intentions can distract us from our walk with Christ if done wrong.

So why Lent, and why Ash Wednesday in particular?

Lent was a period in the early church leading up to Easter. Many people were baptized the weekend of Easter, and Lent was a period of study and preparation for entry into the Christian life.

While Lent has taken on many nuances and non-Christian activities (e.g., Mardi Gras in New Orleans the night before Ash Wednesday), it is helpful for us as Christians to have a time set aside for reflection and growth. That’s our purpose in it.

Ash Wednesday is part of that. It’s a day to reflect on our own brokenness, sin and shame. When you come to worship Wednesday, you will have the opportunity to receive ashes in the sign of the cross on your hand or forehead. They are there to remind you that sin brings death, but we have life in Christ. The ashes are not designed to show off your faith, but rather remind you of your own brokenness as well as God’s love for you.

Sign of the Cross commonly given to Christians

For some people, giving up something during Lent is an important practice. But here is where a note of caution comes in: If you give something up, do it under conviction that this will help your walk with Christ. Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing. And don’t let someone else (whether a pastor or family member) dictate what you should give up.

Giving something up for the sake of observing a ritual is not only empty, it smacks of trying to earn God’s favor through works. That might be why Jesus instructed us not to tell anyone if we fast (Matthew 6:16-18). So be careful. Whether you fast for Lent, or at any time throughout the year, do it for your walk with Christ, and not for the world to know.

We will have Wednesday night worship throughout Lent at Beachside. I hope to see you there. This is a great opportunity to take some time to intentionally consider your walk with Christ, and grow deeper in it.