While many of us might think a fire in the wild is always bad, for some time farmers and ranchers have used controllable burns to not only reset their fields but even replenish them. Also, even natural fires can be good for new growth to occur and stop the decay of a rotting forest which could even be worse for the environment.
Ash Wednesday and Lent might be understood as just that; a controlled burn. Lent provides a time for people to reflect, recognize and repent of the self-centered passions and desires ready to burn down their life. The ashes placed on our foreheads remind us of the ashes we have made from our words and deeds. The ashes represent the ashes we have made of other people’s lives as we use them, displace them, isolate them for our own gain. Like a decaying field full of weeds and dying brush, we set them on fire and stand before God with a scorched conscience and desperate heart saying, “We got nothing Lord.”
It is good to start a controllable burn upon your life. And quite frankly, our God does His own setting of fires upon us to strip us away of useless gods we think we can control. But if Lent was just a time for doing some gardening with fire to make our life better and make us more righteous, be careful. Man has proven he does not do well managing sin. Like a controlled burn, it is a dangerous game, and can get away from us. If we think we can control our hearts and minds, manage our sins, and improve our standing before our Lord, we will be greatly disappointed. We will fail, though we might have momentary pauses of pride over our accomplishments. If self-discipline and self-improvement are your aims in Lent, be ready to be dismayed.
Fortunately, Lent is not just a time for controlled burns and practicing self-discipline, though that is a godly practice. Lent is more a time for looking to Jesus who allowed the fires of humanity’s sin consume Him on the cross and be extinguished forever in the grave. Through those ashes this same Jesus rose alive and well. Your discipline and righteousness treadmills are not needed. Jesus has done Lent for you. And instead of setting your rotten life on fire, He pours water on you and places His name on you and washes away every error and even the deepest stain we cannot manage: Your heart.
If you look to Lent for a time of suffering, do not bother, Christ has done it for you. If you look to Lent as a time of getting back to God, He has come to you with open arms.