Having grown up in the country, I remember my family burning leaves quite often. We would rake up pine cones, dead grass and miscellaneous trash and set it all ablaze with one match. Then we would step back as the flames devoured the pile. And after the fire went out, there would be ashes in its place. Sometimes I feel as though that is a picture of my life. It’s as though God took His divine rake and made a pile of my life and set it on fire, burning all the rubble away. That process hurts.
Living in America with an exuberant amount of health, wealth and prosperity teaching, there is a disconnect when we absorb a comfortable doctrine and then look at our lives that are ablaze with pain. How do you reconcile your reality with a belief that teaches that we should be exempt from the fire? You can’t. From my own experience, that kind of teaching - cloaked in garments of faith - subsequently destroys it when we pray for “no more” and then find ourselves submerged in “more” anyway. I have had my own faith crisis where I’ve searched for every manner of religious relief to try and make the pain go away and force my situation to be the way that I want it to be, only to find myself on the same merry-go-round of confusion and disillusionment every time. After trying to fast and pray, after trying to speak in tongues, after trying to just believe harder, pray longer, pray louder, give more, hold on, let go and let God, the fire still burns it all.....and all I see are ashes.
When you look at your life, do you see ashes too?
Maybe your relationship with your child is nonexistent. Maybe your retirement fund is gone. Maybe your parents have passed away. Maybe your mortgage is past due, again. Maybe your marriage is dead. Maybe your future has crumbled. Maybe every dream you’ve ever had has been set on fire and burned to the ground.
It’s all ashes.
What does one do? Can ashes be redeemed? Can a life that has been burned be beautiful again?
When we look at dead things, we weep and we mourn the loss. And when we see ashes that were once things and people we loved, our human tendency is to turn heavenward and ask that always-present question, “Why God?” When we are living in a world of ruins and all that we hoped for has been burned away, we tend to look at our Bible and wonder what we’ve missed…what we have done wrong…what we can believe. However preposterous, it’s our human nature, in our limitations, to question a limitless God.
James 1 says that every good and perfect gift is from the Father. Some interpret that passage as meaning “only the good and perfect gifts are from the Father while everything unpleasant is not.” However, James 1 is talking about trails and pain in the life of a believer. Everything we receive from God – good and bad – is a gift because He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ever imagine, able to work all things together for our good. Being a follower of Jesus Christ does not make us exempt from ashes, but it does give us the hope for new life. Scripture is filled with accounts and examples of God putting His hands on His people and squeezing them, making them uncomfortable while He molding their lives because His ultimate goal for each of His children is for that child to resemble His Son. Like a goldsmith, God places His children in the fire to purge away the dross and to purify them so that child can be conformed into the image of Himself. It takes the painful raking of a plow before a garden can be sown. And while painful, that process is of eternal worth and value.
Friend, if your life is in ashes, take heart. Ashes can pave the way for a fertile ground one day. Yes, the burning hurts. Yes, the raking is painful. Yes, the loss is deeply felt and deeply mourned. Yes, the cost is severely great. But Jesus has always been and can only ever be faithful to His own word which promises that He will give beauty for ashes. The Creator we serve restores and redeems the broken, the ugly and the destroyed. And He will never burn it all away to leave us empty and void for long. Though He will till the ground of our heart, He will also plant seeds and provide refreshment and light and new mercies each morning. And one day, in the dark space that was once a mark of death, there will be a garden of life.
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”