Isaiah 61:1-3 (NLT)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. 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. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
Oh the ashes of life. The substance of us left after a trial that has shaken us to the core of our faith hanging by a thread of hope. God promises to give us beauty for ashes. Have you ever cleaned out a fireplace the morning after a raging fire? What a mess? The black residue is everywhere. Each flake of gray ash leaves a mark on whatever it touches. It is such a laborious task many people have converted wood-burning open hearths with gas-burning inserts. Some of the gas fireplaces look so real with synthetic shaped wood made of stone that never will burn just a cover for the gas running through it. Yes, the gas puts off heat but it will never be a match for the blazing fire in an open hearth. When I was little, I would visit my grandparent’s house on the weekend. They had a fireplace with two majestic owls watching from inside. The wise old birds were attached to a log basket that kept the wood in place for the fire. When the fire was burning well, their eyes would glow and we would sit waiting to see them light up eating Pepperidge Farm cookies on the floor. Pretty cool, huh.
Soon I will be fifty years old, I have discovered that I am getting to the stage in life where experience has granted me some wisdom. Things my grandparents and parents told me in the past now make perfect sense. There are things that time has clarified for me. I have had good times and bad. I have been through every season repeatedly. I gave my heart and life completely over to the Lord more than a decade ago. Oh, I tried so many times as a young person and failed to maintain my relationship with the Lord. When it finally happened, He took hold of my heart and I freely gave it to Him. Now I know that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me and in me. He has given my life purpose, but it was not where I thought I would find it in education, career or even a family. My purpose is to give my life to Jesus. To love Him with all my heart and serve Him every day. To surrender my life as a loving sacrifice to Him.
How can ashes be made beautiful? What is the purpose? Ashes are all that is left when a sacrifice or whatever else burned is fully consumed. It is that which cannot be destroyed. Faith is the substance of what we hope for and the very thing that remains at the end of every test and trial. I can tell you some of the beauty that has come from my ashes. I have Good News – God is always good! I have comfort for the brokenhearted – He is faithful. I have a message for each captive. You have been set free in Jesus. I have help for those who mourn – hang on Jesus is coming. To all who have sacrificed to believe just one more day and hope in the Lord for their future living in the midst of fiery trials knowing His Love will not be consumed – there is beauty in our ashes.
Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
I want to be a living and holy sacrifice for Jesus today. To give my body, mind and spirit fully to the well-keeping and constant service of the Lord. How? How can we offer sacrifices to God with our life. A lot of times we think of those things we “give up for Jesus” as a sacrifice but to be defined as a true sacrifice it must cost us everything. Truthfully most of what we “give up for God” is a benefit to us and no service for the Kingdom. I am talking about the kinds of sacrifice that bless His Heart. Sacrifice of Repentance when we sit in dust and ashes as a man fully consumed by the Lord and say, “Yes Lord, above all others I choose you!” and then do something about it. (Job 42:5-6) The sacrifice of obedience that chooses to do the Will of God even when we are fed up, burned out and done with the world. (Psalm 40:6-8) Yet keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the Hope we have found in Him keep on doing what He tells us to do delighting to do His Will and keep His Word each day. The sacrifice of thankfulness when life is not really producing such a response. Those days when nothing goes right and the unexpected bill or bills fill up the mailbox with all the other inconveniences of life knocking at the door, but you say, “Thank you Lord – we are blessed.” It’s a sacrifice God honors. (Psalm 50:14) The all too familiar sacrifice of brokenness and faithfulness that when life falls apart – we dare to keep believing and hoping in the Lord. We decided a long time ago to follow Him, so even in our brokenness refusing to give up. (Psalm 51:16-17) Oh let’s not even talk about the sacrifice of forgiveness that let’s everyone off the hook no matter how they treat us. (Matthew 5:23-24) God does not require a sacrifice from us. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He satisfied all discrepancies and paid our debt in full. We know have access to the altar of sacrifice. What is Jesus after? You. Me. All of us. Why? To make beauty from our ashes.
John 10:9-11 (NLT)
Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”
John 10:17-18 (NLT)
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
Jesus came down from Heaven to earth sacrificing His Life in order to lead us home. Nothing more and nothing less. God requires nothing of us except that we accept His Son Jesus and Savior and Lord. This is the bottom line of grace. He has made it clear that no sacrifice is required only a broken spirit and repentant heart. We feel more comfortable in doing and giving of ourselves rather than giving all of ourselves. Let that sink in. We do things for the Lord, but when it requires an inward change everything changes. Jesus came to give us a rich and satisfying life. It is when we give our life sacrificially to Jesus that this life changing process begins and it will not be complete until we are with Him forever.
Psalm 118:26-28 (NLT)
Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, shining upon us. Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you!
It is in consideration of this that I come to the Lord today (again) with my life. Though the sacrifices in my life are small and seemingly insignificant by choosing to give the Lord the ones that come from deep inside my heart – He washes them in His Blood, covers them with His Grace and wraps them in His Love and they become beautiful. It is this place that our righteousness, once a tiny seed of faith, grows into a mighty oak flourishing in His Love. The sacrifice of our life is struggle but today I will bind all of me on the Altar of my Lord. I will try with all my heart and mind to be loving, kind and compassionate like my God and Savior. I will strive to obey His Word and follow His Way. I choose to be thankful rather than grumbling and complaining through this day. I will be willing to answer His Call and respond when He speaks. I will forgive as many times as it takes to project His Love properly. I will bless the Name of the Lord in all things and every way possible. This is my sacrifice. The Lord promises to take it and make it beautiful! All about Him today – not about me.
Ephesians 5:2 (NLT)
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.