Josh Patrick is the Teaching and Discipleship Pastor at Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, TN. You can read more from Josh at www.KnowingJesusToday.com and follow him on Twitter, @Patrick_Josh.
Ash Wednesday (or Not Your Typical Ash Wednesday or How to Make the Most of Lent)
Hey there. My name is Josh Patrick. I’m a 36-year-old pastor in the Nashville area. I’m married to a beautiful strawberry-blonde haired girl named Joni, and we have three daughters, ages 8, 5, and 2. Today is unlike any Ash Wednesday I’ve ever experienced. More on that in a minute…
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. This is a season of reflection, self-examination, and preparation. Properly understood, Lent is not an obligation we observe out of duty. It is an opportunity for us to take intentional steps toward a deeper and purer life with God. Lent reawakens us to a reality that we are often tempted to forget – “Outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) We embrace the season of Lent because we desire an increased awareness of God’s presence in our everyday lives and a greater appreciation for his redemptive work in us.
Now, let me tell you a story.
4 weeks ago today, I was awakened by intense pain in my stomach. Assuming that it would eventually go away, I went about my day as usual. The pain came and went all day long, but by nighttime, it was constant. I was hurting so badly that I could barely walk. I called a friend who also happens to be a medical professional. After listening to my symptoms, he dropped what he was doing, drove over to my house, and took me to the Emergency Room. After some blood work, a CAT Scan, lots of pain meds, and an emergency surgery, it was determined that I had stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver.
And just like that, our little world was turned upside down.
Every day my heart races with intense emotions. I’ve never felt fear like this before. Arrows of anger and anxiety have pierced my heart on more than one occasion. I’ve trembled and wept with worry. One night I felt so mentally assaulted with despair that I couldn’t even speak. I feel completely unraveled and undone inside. I’m doing my best to trust God one day/one hour/one moment at a time. Sometimes it gets hard. Really hard.
Every morning I have a choice: Will I let my feelings about this situation lead my life or will I put my trust in the God who has redeemed my life? Thus far, by God’s grace, I’ve chosen to lean into hope because my deepest conviction is that God raised Jesus from the dead. God has gone out of his way to convince me of this, so in a very real way, I feel enslaved to this belief. I can’t let it go. Actually, it won’t let me go. The hope of the empty tomb has thoroughly captivated my heart. So, hope isn’t a shallow cliché or fleeting emotion for me. It’s a tangible reality. It’s a way of life.But that doesn’t erase my feelings or remove my pain. Rather than stuff my emotions, I’ve chosen to turn to the book of Psalms. I heard someone call the Psalms, “God’s iTunes Playlist.” I think a better title would be “The Songbook of the Human Heart.” Every human emotion is expressed in this precious collection of literature. The Psalms give us permission to speak freely to God about the way we feel. They’re written in raw, refreshingly human language that enables us to be honest in the presence of God. I hope you’ll grab your Bible soon and flip through the book. You’ll see everything from joy to sorrow, gratitude and insecurity, contentment and discouragement, anguish and anger. If it can be felt, it’s there in the Psalms.
I should say at this point that in addition to relying on the Psalms to help me process my feelings, I’m also turning to safe, Spirit-filled people who know all about me and love me anyway. These friendships are like oxygen for my soul. I can be completely unfiltered with them. They listen without condemnation and point me to Jesus.
I find it refreshing that 40% of the Psalms could be classified as lament. That’s good news for me because the emotions in my heart have tested my relationship with God. I’ve said some pretty unpleasant (even rude) things to him over the last few weeks. But you know what? The longer I sit with God in the Psalms, the more convinced I become that I am safe in his presence regardless of how I feel. The God that Jesus came to reveal accepts me as I am, and I think he probably likes the real me way better than the fake/superficial/religious me anyway. He desires authenticity; not a performance.
Here are the five Psalms that are opening my heart to God in this season:
Lent is a time to courageously call on God to remove the obstacles that stand between us and the life we were meant to live. Our God has a voice, and he has something to say to each of us. Some will choose to fast (from chocolate, alcohol, media, etc.) in order to examine what keeps us from hearing him clearly and trusting him fully. If we stay the course and remain in a posture of prayerful surrender, God will enhance our capacity for hope and faith.
Father, we begin this 40-day journey of Lent by acknowledging that we are weak, desperate, and needy people. Forgive us for our silly and pretentious attempts to cover these realities. As this season unfolds, reveal any unfinished business between us. Show us the un-surrendered territories in our hearts. Dethrone the false gods that threaten your supremacy. Heal our broken lives, and help us learn what it means to put our trust in you. We pray in the name of Jesus, amen.