Frozen Lake, North Shore, Massachusetts.

Asbury Revival and Lent

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. In the Christian Calendar, it marks the first day of the Season of Lent, a 40-day observance of contrition, before the celebration of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, known to the world as Easter.

(We’ll talk more about that last week of Christ’s life as we approach it, roughly 40 days from now. It is called Holy Week.)

I was at a local noon church service today, where maybe 50 of us gathered for prayer, reading of Scripture, worship, a small teaching/sermon, and the administration of ashes upon our foreheads.

Woah, what? Yes, you did hear that right. If you are unfamiliar with the rite, you may wonder. In fact, as the pastor today pointed out, those in the world who do not follow the Savior, might well be curious. Do they wonder,

“What is it about those Christians? They must get something out of it, going about with black smudges on their foreheads.”

Black Smudges

Yes. Black smudges. I’ve had pastors use their thumb, and pretty much smudge the whole affair with a deep black coating that takes days to remove. Today it was barely visible. Yet you could just see the cross.

Pastor John mentioned that Ash Wednesday is probably the most unpopular of all the days we Christians observe. After all, it brings clearly into focus our mortality.

When the pastor or priest administers the ashes, (in this case, burnt palm branches from the previous years’ Palm Sunday observance), he says something like this:

“(Your name); remember that from the dust you came, and to dust you shall return.”

Pretty sobering thing to hear from the pastor, as he looks you in the eye, with sorrow and compassion. He is affirming your transience, the extremely temporary nature of your time left upon the globe. His words come from the Bible, and are often quoted at graveside/burial services.

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3:19

In the above passage, God is talking. He has pronounced specific curses: one upon the serpent, and one upon the earth itself. (He never did curse the man and woman, it is important to note. He spoke a new hardship/toil pronouncement over their lives, but not a “curse”.) In this passage, he has let them in on a pretty sad new state of affairs.

They would die. Now they could not eat of the tree of Life, but would be driven from the garden. Eden life was over. Through their disobedience/rebellion, they would now know toil and pain, and eventually, death.

Back to the Ground

Indeed, back to the ground we all go, each of us, one day. And the ashes on our foreheads remind us of this, our mortality.

“Okay, so the point of that is, what, exactly?” one may ask.

Really good question. In the normal comings and goings in our daily lives, we try very hard to avoid this death thing. We run away from questions of mortality.

It’s like the worst thing you can possible hear is that someone got sick, and died. Or they were in an accident, and died. Or that they were in a tragic accident, and died. Or they were in a natural disaster and, you get it. It’s shocking, really.

We stop. We get extremely sad, very much so, if we knew the poor chap. Oh how we grieve the loss, when they die! Our loved ones meant so much, and their loss is keenly felt.

And so (in our post-pandemic world, anyway), we say to one another, in a gesture of both caring and fear,

“Stay safe.”

“Be safe”.

“Avoid that nasty outcome that is coming your way for just as long as you possibly can.”

“Don’t die.”

And rightly so. We don’t want to experience the loss of their passing. We don’t want their eventual demise to come anytime soon. Push it away. Stay safe, please.

Yet, if I’m not very much mistaken, our loved ones who died in the Faith are actually very well off, indeed. We mourn for our loss, not theirs.

Our Mortality

And our own mortality? Push it away, further still.

I gotta admit, today when Pastor John said those words over me, I felt it, the importance of the moment. And I didn’t like it. I squirmed. At the altar, as I bowed, I had a quick word with the Holy One. He understood just how I felt. He gets it. He gets it very well.

As Christians, we know that to be absent from the body (to die) is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), and yet who is eager to go through that river of death? The other shore will be worth it, but let’s put it off just as long as we can, shall we? In fact, let’s not think about it all.

Because our eventual demise is usually not in the forefront of our minds–perhaps that is why long ago Church Fathers thought it might be a good idea to take a set time each year, and go ahead and face it. The death thing.

Pay Attention!

Enter Ash Wednesday. Enter this strange, foreign concept, this startling pronouncement over your life, as the ashes are applied upon your forehead. Ashes you are. To ashes you will return.

You will, in fact, die. Back to the ashes with you. Pay some attention to that. For forty days. Yikes!

Yet in observing Lent, we have an opportunity to do more. In taking notice of this brief span remaining upon the earth, we are left with some useful pondering.

There are a finite number of days left for you, and for me. How shall we spend them? In communion with Christ? Fulfilling that for which we were given breath, in the first place?

One can over-do this whole thing, of course, and get very morbid, or even fearful. There is no need for that. Sober up and consider, yes.

Be afraid? No. Since He is infinitely wiser and better than us in every way, we are well served if we just hand the days yet remaining over to our Creator. He has it all figured out. We can trust Him.

Scripture says that we can be pretty peaceful regarding the timing of our eventual demise. Our death will be of no surprise to Him.

“Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.”

Psalm 139:16

During this season of Lent, let’s take a look at our mortality. Let’s consider the brevity of life, and offer our remaining days to Him. In grateful obedience, and in service to Him and to our world, our reflection is very valuable, indeed.

The Lent Challenge

Since our days are indeed finite, we are challenged to live them well. And how do we live our days well? I think from Scripture it is pretty clear that dwelling in His Presence is time well spent. A life in His Presence is a life well lived.

Lent challenges us to renew our focus, in order to celebrate Him in prayer, to worship Him through service, to know Him through Scripture study, and in times of lingering long over His Word–with the guidance of His Holy Spirit.

We can take some time to get away for a while, from the mad pace of our lives, and sit a while with the God of ageless time. To get our souls in order.

And to get them in order, perhaps we need to ask: what is amiss? What should be confessed? Of what shall I repent? The psalmist helps us here:

“Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me,

And lead me in the everlasting way.”

Psalm 139: 23-24 (Amplified)

Indeed, as we recall that we are but dust, contrition is the only natural recourse.

David’ Prayer of Contrition: Our Model

Today the Pastor read from the great “Confession Chapter” of the Bible, Psalm 51.

Here we find David crying out to God for forgiveness. David’s sin was enormous.

And his regret was profound. He had viewed a beautiful woman bathing. He, as King, had her sent for. He took her for his own, and she conceived a child.

Meanwhile, in full use of his faculties, knowing just what he was doing, he tried to trick her husband, Uriah, (and one of David’s faithful warrior “Mighty Men”, believe it or not) into having sex with his wife.

David had hoped that the beautiful Bathsheba’s child would then be accepted as Uriah’s. When Uriah proved too faithful to David’s cause in battle to sleep with his wife, David stepped over a line that made the previous sins look pretty small.

David ordered his general to put Uriah on the front line, urge him into a skirmish that was hopeless, then hastily retreat. Uriah died a hero’s death. And David died many more deaths, over and over again, as his sin was found out, revealed, made known.

How he had disappointed His God! What had he done? How could he live with himself, now?

David cried out before God in this beautiful Psalm:

“Have mercy on me, O God,

because of your unfailing love.

Because of your great compassion,

blot out the stain of my sins.

Wash me clean from my guilt.

Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my rebellion;

it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;

I have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what you say,

and your judgment against me is just.

For I was born a sinner—

yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.

But you desire honesty from the womb,

teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again;

you have broken me—

now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins.

Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Renew a loyal spirit within me.

Do not banish me from your presence,

and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.

You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Psalm 51:1-17 (NLT)

Perhaps we might consider spending each of the next 40 days of Lent praying this prayer. The Holy Spirit has a way of illuminating His Word, and the more we saturate ourselves in it, the more we see the Word made flesh, the Son of God, written throughout its pages. It seems to delight the Holy Spirit to show us new insights as we spend time with Him. (For a discussion of the first verse in this Psalm, see According to His Lovingkindness).

One verse that stands out to me today is verse seven. In the version I enjoy, (the New American Standard) it is translated like this:

“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

Mayest Thou wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Psalm 51:7

Here we see David recognizing something pretty profound. Even before the coming of Christ—our perfect sacrifice for the cleansing/freeing from sin—David understood that he needed so much more than the ritual associated with forgiveness. He needed God, Himself.

God included hyssop as an integral part of the first Passover. The ancient Israelites, in bondage in Egypt, were to dip the hyssop in the blood of a slain lamb. Then, they were to smear the blood on the frame of their front door. In this way, they would ward off the ominous angel of death.

Passover was a foreshadowing of what Christ would accomplish later, through His death. As the Lamb of God, he would forgive those who repented and turned to Him.

Hyssop was also used by the priests in OT days to cleanse the people (by dipping the hyssop branch into blood and then sprinkling it over the congregation). But that would not do here. Fully convicted, David says in effect,

“I can only be so clean with the ritual. But my conscience is searing. It won’t let me go. I need you, Lord. Only you, and your cleansing, can truly make me clean. Only you can set me free. With your cleansing, I shall be whiter than snow.”

It is only through God’s forgiveness through Christ that we experience this renewal. “Mayest Thou wash me”; only You will do, Oh Lord. And He does. He hears our heart’s cry, and turns His ear toward us.

We can say with David that indeed, a contrite heart, He will not despise.(Psalm 51:17).

Asbury Revival: Joy that Follows Humility

The Holy Spirit renews us, when in our broken state, we come to Him. Through our humble contrition, great good can come! There is power displayed in our lives and in this world, when God’s people bow in humility before Him.

The Revival at Asbury reflects this very thing. Just this month, the Holy Spirit surprised a few students. Then He surprised a few more; then the student body. Finally word got out and dozens of area Colleges felt the attraction to come. Come, and see.

What was up at Asbury?

Eventually, this small town of 6,000 souls swelled to more than 50,000 people, as Christians flocked to the small campus. How many of us wanted to be there, to sit in such a strong Presence, as the Holy Spirit moved amongst them!

And yet, what happened at Asbury is just a picture, a quick glimpse, of what awaits the children of God, one day. Connection with the Holy.

So, we wonder, how did this revival begin? After a chapel service, some of the students felt convicted by the message, and they didn’t want to leave. A few students got up front, impromptu, (bold move, that!) and shared their conviction of sin. In humility they bared their souls before God and the small gathering.

Confession of sins in a public setting is nothing new to God’s children. It’s just not done a whole lot, today.

But it happened on February 8th, 2023. And with it, came a beautiful demonstration of the presence and power of God in community. The place was filled with a brokenness, a contriteness, and then overwhelming joy, as children of God experienced the freedom of sins confessed and forgiven.

No wonder they didn’t want to leave! In our contrition, new life is born. In our confession, hope is kindled. In our humility, fellowship is restored.

For we, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, stricken by our fall in the garden, consigned to dust and ashes, are more than that, now. When we experience the forgiveness of God, we become sons of God, and daughters of God, reborn into a lasting fellowship with the Eternal Father.

How fitting–Asbury and Ash Wednesday, both in February, this year. Perhaps God is doing a bold new thing in our day. Perhaps we are invited to join in.


Holy Father and Lover of our souls, show us our hearts. You know us better than we can ever know ourselves. You know the murmurings of our minds, the judgments we have rendered, the criticisms that we cling to. You know the pride which stands between us and others, and which stands between us and you. Show us ourselves, that we may confess our sins, and in our confession find full forgiveness and acceptance in the Beloved. Show us if there are others to whom we owe an apology. Help us to make it right.

Make us restless inside, until we find our rest in fellowship with You. We thank you for this season of Lent, and we pray that we may seek you anew, with all of our hearts, until that day when our bodies return to ashes, and our spirits rejoice forever in Your Presence. In Christ’s joyful name we pray. Amen.