We were completely and totally lost!
Let me explain. During covid, my family did a lot of hiking. We were living in Illinois at the time. One of my colleagues recommended a forest preserve we had not yet hiked, so we gave it a try.
We are used to having markers, or guideposts—signs that tell us where we are and where to go—on the trails we hike. This trail had no markers. We walked for a while and took a few turns. Pretty soon, we were deep in the forest preserve. We could not see any natural landmarks to get our bearings.
We Are Lost
Alas, we could not tell if we were going deeper into the preserve or heading out. We did not see anyone else out on the trail, so we had no one to ask. Without guideposts, we had no way of knowing where we were or which way to go.
By this time my kids were getting hungry. Thinking this would be a short hike, we had not packed any food, water, or supplies. The kids wanted to go home, but we didn’t know the way. I played it cool, trying to reassure them. I thought I could use the GPS on my phone to navigate out of the preserve.
Unfortunately, I had not charged my phone, and it had died. This is when the panic began to set in. We were completely and totally lost! We had no supplies, no means of communication, no markers, and no help. Secretly, I feared we were going to die out there in the forest preserve.
Ash Wednesday: The Bad and The Good
On Ash Wednesday, we are confronted with the bad news that we are completely and totally lost! We put ashes on our foreheads and say, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” You see, God formed us from dust and created us for a life of love in God’s presence.
Sadly, we lost our way. People thought we could live our own way apart from God. We disobeyed God and acted in ways that hurt God, hurt others, and hurt ourselves. Our sin separated us from God and brought evil and death into the world.
Romans 6:23 NIVTM tells us, “For the wages (or consequences) of sin is death …” Because of our sin, we die—we die spiritually, we die emotionally, and we die physically. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” We are completely and totally lost! But that is not the end of the verse or the story …
My daughter had an idea in the forest preserve. “We should pray and ask God for help,” she suggested. I was humbled that I had not thought of that first. I am a pastor! Nevertheless, I was proud my little girl knew where to turn for help and hope.
Jesus Gives Us Hope
Our family said a prayer together. Not long after, we spotted another hiker on the trail. We were so excited to see another living person on the trail. He saved the day and showed the way! He helped us find our way out of the preserve so we could get back home.
On Ash Wednesday, we are comforted with the most amazing, good news. Jesus saves the day and shows the way! Romans 6:23 NIV continues, “The wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus.” We mark our foreheads with ashes, BUT we do so in the shape of the cross. This reminds us of the good news. Ephesians 1:7 NIV tells us God “is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”
Jesus saves us! On the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our sin so we could be forgiven; He defeated death so we could have a new life on earth and eternal life in heaven. Now Jesus shows us the way back home to God.
The Importance of Guideposts
We do not have to go through life without guideposts. When we put our trust in Jesus, He places His mark on us. Ephesians 1:13 NIV tells us, “When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you his Holy Spirit.” In the original language it literally says, “he put his seal (or mark) on you.”
On Ash Wednesday, the mark becomes visible and tangible. This is one reason Ash Wednesday is so powerful for people of all ages. So much of faith is invisible and intangible. We cannot see it or touch it.
On Ash Wednesday we can feel and see the good news. Every teacher and youth leader knows how powerful hands-on activities are. Ash Wednesday is a hands-on experience. We feel the mark as ashes are traced on our forehead. We see the mark with our eyes. It stands as a marker on our spiritual journey.
No matter how lost we get in life, we can always turn to Jesus for help and hope. He saves the day and shows the way! The mark stands as a continual sign of how much God loves you and how much Jesus did to save you.
The mark reminds us to keep our eyes on Jesus and rely on His Spirit each step of the way. In Jesus we have every spiritual blessing we need, and He makes everything work out according to God’s plan (Ephesians 1:3, 11).
We Can Help Point the Way
One other neat thing about Ash Wednesday is that it helps us become a guidepost for others. We leave worship with a cross on our forehead. We take this good news into the world with us as a sign and witness to others that there is help and hope in Jesus.
While we will wash the ashes off our foreheads, we are encouraged to live in such a way that others might see the love and hope of Jesus in our lives. God’s purpose for those who trust in Jesus is that we would live for His praise and glory in the world (Ephesians 1:12). We just might be a marker others need to discover Christ in their lives.
We all need markers on the trail. I pray this Ash Wednesday will be a hands-on experience of God’s mark on your life. Feel the mark of God’s love. See the mark of God’s hope. Bear the mark for all to see by your words and actions. And keep this mark in sight each step of the way.
No matter how lost we get in life, we can always turn to Jesus for help and hope. He saves the day and shows the way!