Have you read the book of Job in the Bible? It is a most extra-ordinary story. It begins with Job being on top of the world. He had seven sons and three daughters; and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys and had lots of servants! On top of all that he was 'blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil'.
The story goes that Satan sneaked into God's presence, and tried to undermine Job's faith, by suggesting that Job's uprightness and faith in God only existed because he had been so blessed, and would evaporate once trouble and strife hit him hard. God then agreed to Job being put to the test.
Poor old Job then suffered a whole series of dreadful setbacks that destroyed all his possessions, and his family, leaving him childless, and bereft of all his blessings. Yet, despite all these tragedies, Job's faith in God remained steadfast. God was very pleased with Job; but Satan was very frustrated, and suggested to God that Job's faith would soon evaporate if he were to suffer physically. God then agreed to allow Job to endure physical suffering, as a further test of his faith. Poor Job was then afflicted by the most painful sores 'from the soles of his feet to the top of his head'. At this point even Job's wife began to doubt Job's faith, and had a go at him, but Job still remained steadfast. Then his three friends came to visit him, and discussed his predicament with him. Job's 'Comforters'tried to convince him that he should reassess his outlook on life; but Job remained doggedly steadfast in his faith in God; even at one point crying out those famous words:-
"Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved on a rock for ever!
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes -I and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:23-27)
Eventually, Job can take the 'comfort'of his friends any more and he cries out to God:-
"Oh that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence -let the almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing." (Job 31:35)
God does then finally answer Job, and he does so with a wonderful sweeping statement of his majesty, might and authority. So much so, that Job is deeply overcome with humility and shame for crying out to God in that way, and he replies to God:
"My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5/6)
God then, not only forgives Job, but wonderfully restores his family, his wealth and his happiness; giving him twice as many blessings as he had before his trials.
On March the 9th we celebrate Ash Wednesday, and those final words of Job tell us what Ash Wednesday is all about. It is about recognising that God knows us much better that we know ourselves, that he loves us more that we will ever fully grasp, and, in our frailty and weakness, we will never manage to fully live up to God's faith in us. So, we are marked with ashes to remind us of our frailty, and as a sign of our desire to ask God for his forgiveness. The mark is in the form of the sign of the cross, which is indeed the wonderful sign of God's love and forgiveness. The period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the anniversary of Christ's forgiving work on the cross and his triumph over death, is called Lent. The church sees that period as a time of preparing ourselves to receive Christ's love and forgiveness once again in our lives.
Why not consider marking Lent yourself this year? You could set aside some extra time to read your Bible, or spend extra time in prayer, or even fast. Whatever you do, please take time to remind yourself that God loves you very much indeed, and wants to have a deep and loving relationship with you, just as he did with Job.
May God bless you all,