I am refreshing /updating this note I wrote after Ash Wednesday 2009. It still blesses me because it refocuses my mind in the Lenten season as a dedication and cultivation of my relationship with Christ right before He paid the ultimate price for our salvation and ultimate reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.
“Laissez les bon temps rouler!” Let the Good Times Roll right into Lent
As a native of Louisiana, Ash Wednesday was a huge deal because of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) whose whole existence is based on the big day of revelry and excess before the Lenten season begins. Let’s live it up, before we have to give up everything. What shall I give up is really tired, old, deficit thinking. The Good Book says obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience is a forward looking act of your will – acting on a requirement. All sacrifice should come from a place of obedience rather than convenience. This Lenten season, I am challenged to think deliberately of how I will prioritize my time to honor and cultivate my relationship with God in every area.
Ps 116:12 says in the Amplified version: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? [How can I repay Him for all His bountiful dealings?]”
The Lenten journey is marked by sacrifice – in recognition of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness before he began his ministry, facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance.
Many times we “give up” things, to sacrifice as Jesus did – to discipline our bodies and ultimately conquer it’s desires so we can focus on our purpose, goals etc. It’s very self-focused about getting ourselves right before God.
But this passage provokes me to ask the question ” What shall I GIVE, rather than “give up” — it is directed as an act of thanksgiving for God’s goodness rather than my own failures and struggles. We don’t have stop having a good time during Lent, we can celebrate and honor our relationship with Him!
Of course, we can never repay God for what He has done for us – but psalmist offers a few suggestions in the following verses 13+. It’s a wonderful place to start.
1. Thank God for His Blessings and partake of His saving grace
- Ps 116:13 says: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and deliverance and call on the name of the Lord. Per one of the commentaries: To take the cup of salvation was in itself an act of worship, and it was accompanied with other forms of adoration, hence the Psalmist says, and call upon the name of the LORD. He means that he will utter blessings and thanksgivings and prayers, and then drink of the cup which the Lord had filled with his saving grace.
2. Boldly commit to do what you have vowed before God, and proclaim His goodness to others.
- Verse 14. “I will pay my vows to the Lord, yes, in the presence of all His people.
- Another commentary writes: The Psalmist has already stated his resolution, to devote himself to the worship of God evermore, and here he commences the performance of that resolve. The vows which he had made in anguish, he now determines to fulfil. “I will pay my vows unto the Lord.” He does so at once, “now,” and that publicly, “in the presence of all his people.” Good resolutions cannot be carried out too speedily; vows become debts, and debts should be paid.
In this age of lack of commitment and betraying on ones word, “Do what you said you would do – no excuses, and don’t be ashamed of witnesses.” It’s liberating to live out your faith, to you and those around you.
3. Rededicate your service to God, and as we do this we are free AND stay free
- vs: 16 says: “O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid; You have loosed my bonds . As explained, David in paying his vows rededicates himself unto God; the offering which he brings is himself, as he cries, O LORD, truly I am thy servant. We are liberated when we declare that we belong to an all mighty, all knowing, omni-present God. We can really boldly say, ” I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me”
4: Continue to give thanks to God for everything and seek Him on ALL things.
- vs: 17 says “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord.” This posture reminds me that there is always a reason to give thanks even if I’m not feeling any gratitude at the present time. It is not about me but who God is. Think of how we teach our children to say thank you – many times because they are so focused on the gift. But acknowledging the giver is just as important. That’s why sometimes its a sacrifice, not conditional on how we feel at the moment but always celebrating the sovereignty and graciousness of God.
As Matthew 6:33 reminds us, as we seek Him first, everything else is taken care of.
There will be times for introspection in this Lenten journey, that’s a necessary part of our daily walk. But God always encourages us that He is also focused on our destiny, our future, the limitless possibilities of walking with Him.
What shall I render means that I ALWAYS have something to GIVE. In Christ, we are earthen vessels of HIS limitless GRACE, unsurpassed PEACE, unspeakable JOY. – conduits of His Love. Let this Lenten season be filled with the awesomeness of and gratitude for Christ’s great sacrifice, His ministry to others – especially the least of these, His great love for us.
So over the next week as many of us will be celebrating Mardi Gras or not, also plan for your Lenten journey. And while sugar may be off the menu for the next 46 days, giving our time, service, and thanksgiving to God is going to be the best sugar substitute.