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“Hat in Hand”


An office worker named Bill had had just about enough. He was tired of the management’s incompetence. Most of all, he was tired of his immediate supervisor, Mr. Sanders. He had to vent about it somewhere, so he walked over to his co-worker’s desk and said “Sylvia, can you believe that Sanders guy? He never gets the work schedule done on time, and I think he deliberately ignores my requests for time off! A fourth grader could do a better job than he does. What a dimwit!” By this time, Sylvia was looking over Bill’s shoulder with surprised horror. Sure enough, Mr. Sanders was right behind Bill the whole time. The manager spun on his heel, stomped into his office, and slammed the door. What could poor Bill do now? There was only one thing he could do, of course. He humbly went into Mr. Sanders’s office to plead for his job. Though he wasn’t wearing a hat, I guess you could say that Bill went to his boss with his “hat in his hands.” He had no excuses–nothing to offer but a heartfelt apology.

Have you ever had the need to go,
hat in hand, to plead with someone
whom you had offended?

It might have been a parent, a teacher, your boss, or even a judge. It’s not a pleasant experience, but sometimes it’s the only way when you need the forgiveness of someone who holds your fate in his hands. In biblical times, the outward sign of a humble heart was the wearing of sackcloth and ashes (see Jonah 3:5-7). That’s the reason we observe the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It’s a day for us to come to Jesus’ cross with the ashes of repentance. We come with no remedy for our own sins, no excuses, and nothing to offer except a plea for the Lord’s mercy.

A heart that is truly broken over sin does not say, “All right, I guess you caught me. I’ll say I’m sorry if that’s what you want to hear.” No, genuine repentance means that we come to the Lord, Whom we have deeply offended, with the same attitude of heart that David had when he wrote “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight.” (Psalm 51:4)

When we do, the Lord replaces our black ashes of sin with the pure white righteousness of the Lord Jesus, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24) God’s purpose from the beginning, in view of Jesus’ death in our place, has always been to “console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isaiah 61:3)

Whenever sinners come before the holy God with hat in hand, pleading only the blood of Christ, they always come away with God’s declaration of complete forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in Him. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about.

But what about Bill, our man with the loud mouth and the angry boss? He gave his humble speech, hat in hand, with a sincere apology—and Mr. Sanders fired him on the spot. That’s how it goes with people sometimes. You burn a bridge and there is just no way to rebuild it. But that’s not our Lord’s way. He always stands ready to receive, forgive, and bless us because of our dear Savior. This Ash Wednesday, let us have the same trusting confidence of which we read in Psalm 86:5: “You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”

Bruce Naumann is associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.