beauty for ashes

I grew up in a church that rarely spoke of Lent and basically didn’t observe it at all, but for the purple runners over the podium and alter, and the stole on the pastor’s robe. Consequently, the first eighteen years of my life, I never gave it much thought. However, after I married, we attended a church that really put emphasis on works and sacrifices during Lent. I usually dismissed it with a smug understanding that Grace covered all that, and felt God didn’t want our silly sacrifices of giving up chocolate or TV.  But over the years, I’ve come to another place, not so severe, that wonders how God is pleased by anything I could do or offer, and asks what is it that He desires from me? Scripture tells us that He delights in us, but it’s a slippery slope to think God’s delight is because of something we did or might do.

Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.”

Psalm 147:11, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

The danger in asking the question What does God delight in about me? is our motive behind the question. Is our sacrifice simply a means to inflated self worth or some form of self gain? We must be careful not to seek self exaltation. We love to be praised for what we have done. If this causes us to perform in some way, we revert to our old habits of self serving instead of God-serving. At that point, a Lenten denial simply becomes an exercise in self discipline. We must examine our motive behind our sacrifice because God looks at the heart. Ultimately, what delights God about us is that we delight in Him, not His praise. God values our valuing Him. God delights in our delighting in Him.

Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

Of course, there are other factors to consider in addition to asking what delights God when we decide to observe a Lenten sacrifice. We should recognize that certain spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying, giving, etc. can grow us into more Christ-likeness.  And if in our sacrifice, we recognize our sinfulness, our dire need for His mercy, then added Lenten discipline would be the catalyst for our return to Him.  Like Isaiah, we cannot stand in His presence without realizing our wretchedness. Isaiah’s confession “Woe to me for I am a man of unclean lips” becomes our own as we stand before Him, exposed and found lacking. After all, it is only in our ability to admit failure and sin that we can run to Jesus for mercy. And in our failure and need, He will always redeem us to exchange beauty for the Lenten ashes.

In conclusion, our heart’s motives matter. Our sacrifices matter. At the end of the day, He’s looking for us to take Him seriously. May your Lenten season draw you unto Him.

Micah 6:8 (The Message) But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

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