Ash Wednesday & Lent | Family Devotional | Constant Source Weekly
This year we are publishing the main section of a current issue of Constant Source Weekly to our blog each month. Each blog entry will include the main commentary for that week’s issue, questions to help you reflect and internalize the lesson, and connection points to help you engage with your family in conversations about the things you are learning about God. It is our hope that this would be a year where more families around the world prioritize seeking Christ together and would exhibit His life and love to those around them. If you want to take a look at last month’s issue, check out our post entitled Worthy Doubters.
Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11
(Every Constant Source Weekly is inspired by four pieces of Scripture from all different parts of the Bible. One of those texts becomes the main foundation for the lesson and is interwoven throughout. Start by reading the text linked above.)
(Every Scripture reading is paired with a commentary section that explains the core themes of the passage, discusses the way the reading informs our faith, and helps interconnect all parts of the Bible. Read that next below.)
Next Sunday is the first Sunday of the Lenten season and kicks off today with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the liturgical practice of a clergy person spreading ashes, in the shape of a cross, on the forehead of a Christian recipient. This gesture is most often accompanied by an encouragement to repent or a reminder of the brevity of life. This service is often a somber event and serves as an invitation to ponder the human temptations that Christ endured on earth, specifically the forty days he spent fasting in the wilderness before his teaching ministry began (Luke 4:1-13). In this passage, Satan comes to Jesus and tempts him to give in to his hunger, to surrender to bodily needs, and to employ his divine power. Jesus withstands the temptation and explains that human beings are sustained by more than the food that we consume but also by our reliance on God in heaven.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and lasts for six weeks ending with Holy Thursday. This commemorates the last supper that Jesus had with His disciples before His crucifixion and resurrection. During the Lenten season, Christians often take after the example of Christ and practice a new spiritual discipline, periodically fasting from eating or cutting out another common luxury. Lent technically spans 46 days, but the six Sundays of Lent are seen as days of community and gathering within the church and therefore aren’t counted as days of fast. All of that to say, Lent focuses on intentionally mirroring a part of Jesus’s life as we prepare ourselves for the climax of the Christian story, Easter.
Because Lent is so closely associated with fasting or giving something up, the focus often swings towards abstinence, avoidance, or denial instead of the true purpose behind the spiritual discipline of fasting, which is to center and foster our relationship with Christ. As we discussed on the blog in January, when it comes to the illustrations of fasting found in the Bible, the emphasis is on remembering that while we are physical beings who need many things to flourish, all of those things come from God. Fasting is simply the practice of recognizing our dependence on God. The biblical example of fasting is often tied to food, but there is nothing wrong with fasting from other things that we find ourselves dependent on in our lives. In fact, the more we think we can’t live without something, that is likely the thing from which we need to fast. When I think of fasting, I like to think of it as a dial. Practicing fasting is turning down our dependence on things of this world, so that we can turn up our dependence on God. This is often done through removing an object or an activity during an allotted time frame, such as Lent, and instead using that time to reflect on our dependence on God. In the absence of the thing that we depend on, we feel a physical craving. When we practice fasting, we take that craving and allow it to amplify our dependence on God. It’s in these times of craving that we realize what we need most is to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus.
Shifting our focus away from that which we are giving up and instead refocusing on the way that God has been present and has provided for us is the key way that Deuteronomy helps us to rethink the upcoming Lenten season. You see, in Deuteronomy 26, the author is talking about the response that the Israelites should have to the provision that God has given. The celebration that is being alluded to here is called the Festival of First Fruits, and it served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. During the festival, the Israelites offered the first or the best crops harvested at the beginning of the harvest season to God. This was an extremely important practice for many reasons. First, it fostered trust in God. By giving up that which came at the beginning of the year, the Israelites were declaring through their actions that God would faithfully continue to provide and that they wouldn’t be left wanting. Second, it helped remind the Israelites of their dependence on God. Both presently, in the current season’s abundance, and historically, in remembering the ways that God had delivered the Israelite people. Finally, through giving their first fruits away, this practice cultivated gratitude and generosity.
As we look to the Lenten season ahead, the challenge here is to rethink our perspective through the question: how can we give our first fruits to God? When we think of our modern day crops, our minds probably go straight to our work. But putting our tangible productivity aside, what does it look like to give the first fruits of our attention, time, and energy to God? Whether you engage in some form of fasting in the upcoming season or not, the question of first fruits is relevant because when we prioritize our relationship with God first and with our best, we reap the same benefits as the Israelites. We grow in trust, recognize our dependence, practice generosity, are inspired through gratitude, and abide more deeply in God. Remember, the goal of Lent isn’t to try to go without, but to recognize our dependence and pursue our relationship with God intensively for a season as Christ did.
(The reflection section provides prompts to help you think through what God is teaching you and how it applies to the world around you. Take 3-5 minutes to ponder and respond to each question below. We recommend keeping a journal to write in, so that you can revisit it later.)
Have you fasted during Lent before? Why? How’d it go?
How does the idea of fasting being about dependence change your perspective of the spiritual discipline?
Whether you fast during Lent or not, how can you focus on giving God your first fruits?
(This section provides tools and starting points to discuss what you’ve learned and processed through above with your family.)
Pray: “Lord, help us to carefully consider the ways that we can give you our first fruits. Help us to become people that trust you more fully and focus more intently on our relationship with you that we may engage more generously and lovingly with the world around us. We love you, Jesus. Amen.”
Share: Talk with your kids about the season of Lent, explain what it’s about, and read Luke 4:1-13 together. Share with your kids a time that you have intentionally made more time in your life to pursue your relationship with God.
Wonder: Talk to your kids about the Festival of First Fruits. Ask them what some of your families first fruits might be. Wonder together how you might be able to spend some extra time during Lent pursuing your relationship with God.
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