So today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season. It is a time when many observers of of a tradition dating back to roughly the 8th-9th century get an ash mark of a cross placed on their foreheads. Followers will attempt to spend the next 40 days in penitent prayer, fasting, and giving, remembering Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. And, of course, followers will post the obligatory Selfie with an Ash-marked forehead, #AshTag.
Wait, what? Isn’t that sacrilegious? #AshTag faith?
Please don’t misunderstand. I assume that there are those who are serious about Lent. They honestly desire to grow closer to God by fasting, prayer, and giving alms (charity). And out of respect for the “sacred,” most followers probably aren’t #AshTagging Selfies of their foreheads. But it does raise an interesting question: “Was Lent ever sacred in the first place?” And is it really sacrilegious to #AshTag a Selfie today?
After all, Lent is not in the Bible. It is a tradition invented by men. Nevertheless, the Bible does give us several examples of true people of faith displaying penitence in sackcloth and ash. So is there anything wrong with taking 40 days to fast, pray, and give charitably? And is it wrong to let others know you are doing it?
Well, it depends.
And it may just be an #AshTag that finally reveals the heart of a believer. Because, like so many religious issues, it is a #HeartThing. And there is simply no better way to get to the bottom of heart things than to examine the words of Jesus. Consider Christ:
Regarding Outward Righteousness:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Regarding Charitable Giving:
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
So, today is a great day to examine your heart. Is your first thought to practice your faith to be noticed by men or God? If by God, just remember that He told us what He wants. God knows your heart. He isn’t impressed with outward appearances. He wants followers who are dedicated to prayer, repentance, and serving. It is a #HeartThing. #JesusSaysSo