Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Beauty for Ashes

Sometimes the path to rejoicing is a long and difficult one. Husband has been in California this week ministering to those who are experiencing the shocking losses from wildfires. Friends are gone. Jobs are gone. Homes are gone. Pets are gone. An entire way of life has burned to the ground.

The prophet Isaiah was given a similarly difficult task: “…the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted…  To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. (Isa 61:1, 3)

Sometimes God’s assignments appear completely, ridiculously unachievable.

And yet, our Lord promised “beauty for ashes.” Ashes are more than the physical remains of a fire. They are the remains of something that once was: a comfortable life, a beautiful home, a fulfilling job, a loyal pet, a favorite neighbor. Thousands of Californians are now looking back at “what used to be,” and they wish it could be that way again.

They are grieving.

We understand a little of how that feels. Each of us has experienced loss. We’ve stood in the ashes of our failed relationships, the deaths of those we love, the jobs we thought we’d have all the way to retirement. And through our own losses—though small in comparison to what our Californian friends are encountering-- we know that God is not the author of despair.

The Creation Story tells us that out of nothing, God made the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. He does His best work when there is nothing to work with. When all human possibilities have burned to the ground, He changes our perspective.

Jesus spoke these reassuring words in Luke 18:27: “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” He doesn’t say we are to involve big government, or the Red Cross, or our military troops, or every person who ever drank wine from grapes that were grown in the Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino area.

Why? Because he wasn’t talking about changing the circumstances. Jesus was referring to changing people’s hearts.

God wants to give beauty for what has turned to ash. He desires to fill the lives of His beloved children with new blessings. The word beauty is translated in the Hebrew as “embellishment.” When we stand beside the broken-hearted and look back at what once was, God declares that right now it may look like nothing but ashes, but He is getting ready to do a new work.

God says, “I will resurrect this situation and bring it back to life. But, I won’t just bring it back to life; I will embellish it and make it even greater than before!” God isn’t talking only about the land and the houses and the businesses. He is talking about the people. He promises to bring them new life that is greater than what has been destroyed.  

Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.” Sackcloth is what the Hebrews wore when they grieved. Then, they poured ashes over their heads as a sign of mourning and sorrow. But disaster chaplains like Husband weren’t called to pour ashes on those who are in shock and sorrow. They are there to facilitate healing, grateful hearts.

Many are mourning in California. God promises that their, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  (Psalm 30:5)