Today is Ash Wednesday, which in many faith traditions is the beginning of the season of Lent. Not being raised in a church that celebrated Lent, over the years I have studied what the tradition is all about, and why it’s celebrated. As I’ve done so, I’ve come to learn that Ash Wednesday is a day set aside as a time of confession and repentance for believers.
So with that in mind, today I decided to spend some extra time during my morning devotions to focus on doing both of those things. To help with that, I decided to use a short book of confessional prayers that someone gave me a few years back. It’s not the sort of thing I normally use, so I enjoyed the change of pace. But what I found is that reading the confessional prayers got me in a “confessing frame of mind”, so I finished up my devotional time by asking God to make me more aware of my sin as I went through today, and to give me a desire to be quick to repent of any sins that might show up.
The first thing I noticed is that God is faithful to answer prayers, because by 10:00am I was feeling discouraged by how often I needed to confess! In other words, I was uncomfortably aware of how often I slipped into selfishness, or how quickly I became critical of others, or how impatient I was over small inconveniences. It seemed that God was revealing my sinful nature faster than I could repent. As a result, I found myself feeling like a failure in my attempts to live how God was calling me to live.
Fortunately, God knew the perfect way to encourage me, and He led me to Luke 5:17-26. If you're not familiar with this passage, it tells the story of a paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof of the building in which Jesus was teaching. Hearing of the miracles Jesus had been doing, this man's friends brought him to see Jesus in the hopes that their friend would be healed as well. They lowered him down - bringing him to rest right in front of Jesus. And as the paralyzed man is lying in front of Him, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven”. The thing I find especially interesting is that this man's friends brought him to Jesus for physical healing, but Jesus heals him spiritually. Then after taking care of what was most important, Jesus goes on and heals him physically as well. But the really interesting part to me is that the verb used in this passage for the word “forgiven” has the basic meaning of “sending”, or “driving something away”. So what Jesus was really saying to this man was, “Your sins are driven away from you.”
So Jesus was telling this man - and now all of us - that when our sins are forgiven, they're also “driven away from us”. David sums this idea up beautifully in Psalm 103:11-12 where he writes, “He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”
The reality of life is that we all sin, and that we sin more often than we want to admit. But the greater reality of life is that God forgives us, and He drives the sin away from us - not holding it against us, or even remembering it. This means we can come to Him and confess our sins - no matter how many of them there are or how big they are – and God will hear us, forgive us, and give us a fresh start.
So today, let's do that. Let's confess our sins to God and claim His forgiveness. Let's allow Him to extend His mercy and grace and forgiveness - and like He did with the paralyzed man, heal us in the way we most need to be healed.