Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today's devotion is taken right out of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison's new book, A Little Book on Joy. I've included it not only because it is a devotion for Ash Wednesday, but also because in it Rev. Harrison gives good instruction on how to have devotion. He calls it "I.T.C.P." (Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer) and it is a very helpful way to spend time with the biblical text. The reason the biblical text is numbered, is because this is the first of a 90-day devotional that Rev. Harrison has provided in his book, a devotional that takes you from Ash Wednesday, through Easter, and on to Ascension. Enjoy!
From Rev. Matthew C. Harrison:
Prepare to meditate. Find a quiet spot. A comfortable kneeler focuses the attention well, but you will probably find yourself at a table, a desk, or a favorite easy chair. Take a few deep, clearing breaths, and continue to breath deeply. Recite the Lord's Prayer. Clear your mind. Pray for clarity of mind and a receptive heart. Now read the text and prayer.
- Ash Wednesday: Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near..."Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!...Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God..." (Joel 2:1, 12-13, 21, 23).
Read it again, slowly. What words are beginning to jump at you? What words trouble you? Encourage you? Disturb you? Comfort you? What does this text teach you? Possibilities abound: true repentance, God's seriousness over repentance, he wants the heart. God is merciful and gracious. He acts for our benefit. We need not fear. What do we have to be thankful for in this text? Many of the same things about which he instructs us, to be sure. I'm thankful that the Lord desires us to "be glad and rejoice." What can we confess? Thankless hearts, lack of repentance, false repentance, rejection of the Lord's steadfast love. Now Pray.
- Instruction: O Lord, you teach us here that you desire true repentance and sorrow over sin, and that you are merciful and slow to anger. You also desire our joy in you.
- Thanksgiving: I thank you for your mercies, for your call to repentance, for your patience with me, for your mercy, for your steadfast love.
- Confession: I confess my many sins, my lack of repentance, my insincerity, my failure to follow through, secret sins of weakness, and especially my great lack of joy.
- Prayer: Righteous and Just Judge, you know the hearts of all. Help me, I pray, in this time of repentance, to acknowledge my sinfulness with true sorrow. Forgive my many failings and faults, and grant me increasing joy in your eternal mercies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
That's "I.T.C.P." -- Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer. As you practice it daily, it will become second nature and a great blessing for your meditation and prayer. You may certainly read the texts with your family at the table, with your women's/men's group, or by yourself, even without using Luther's method (I.T.C.P.). You can also use Luther's method as a catechetical tool with your family or others. In any case, prepare for "joy after joy."