“When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry.” Esther 4:1; ESV
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” Daniel 9: 3-10; ESV
This last Wednesday, I was out and about the community and in Ft. Wayne. With it being Ash Wednesday, I thought that I would see many with ashes on their foreheads. I saw only one. Granted, our church’s service was later in the evening, but only seeing one person with the ashes made me ask, “Where are all the ashes?” Do we live in a society that is not mindful of their sins or is it the sheer fact we just don’t care?
The history of the use of ashes is twofold; the first is the understanding that we are made of the dust (ashes). That is why at many funerals the phrase “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” is quoted (meaning that we are from the earth and to the earth we will return). The second is used in the ritual of repentance. If a great disaster were about to take place (as in the story in the first part of Scripture from Esther) or great sin were committed (as in the latter text), the use of ashes and sackcloth’s were a symbol removing all of our pride and humbling ourselves to the point of total humility before God; which also included a confession of our sins and a repentance (turning away from) of those same sinful habits. In many cases where this took place, God would show mercy and forgiveness (the story of Jonah is a great example of this).
Being a pastor doesn’t exclude me from needing some ashes and sackcloth from time to time. I wish I could say I am perfect and never sin, but that would be a lie. I still need God’s grace and forgiveness; I need Jesus Christ’ total sacrifice for my sins; I still pray for mercy and guidance. And I must be humble enough to admit it to God and myself.
Daniel’s words haunt me; not just for myself, but for our nation. Our state of being, spiritually speaking, is no different than the time Daniel penned these words. We have turned our backs against God in MANY different ways. And the sad thing is that we are not sorry for it! We manipulate God’s Word to meet our needs and when it doesn’t fit, we declare it old-fashioned and passé thinking and change it or simply ignore it altogether.
If we do this to God and His Holy Word, do we have ANY right to complain when He turns away from us as we have turned away from Him? Can we honestly come to Him in our times of trials and tribulations and expect Him to answer our pleas for deliverance from our pain without true repentance on our part? Can we, with any dignity, expect God to bless us when we curse Him?
The Bible declares throughout all of its pages the power of repentance. Humility brings us closer to God. Pride, self-love and selfishness only separates us from His presence. We, as individuals and as a nation, should always be in sackcloth and ashes. Isn’t it time to turn to God instead of away from Him? Shouldn’t we be teaching our children, our spouses, our loved ones and neighbors about God’s desire to love us, heal us and forgive us? Then let us wear our ashes and sackcloth, repent and honestly strive to be drawn closer to the only God who can love us the way He desires to.
Please hear our prayers. Help us to spiritually wear ashes and sackcloth as we humble ourselves before You. Forgive us as individuals and as a nation for turning away from You and Your Word. May our seeking of Your Face be our true desire, as well as our desire to repent. Love us in the manner You desire and allow us to see that love. Then, help us to love You in the same manner. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.