So, What Do I Do with the Ashes, Lord?
Turbulence. I hate turbulence! Webster‘s defines it as: violent agitation; disturbance, unrest. If only I could develop a greater appreciation, or at least a tolerance for it, life would be… hmmm… I wonder what life would be like without turbulence? That would be heaven!
The Bible calls turbulent times trials. And they’re often referred to as fiery trials. Paul writes in James 1 that we should look at turbulence, i.e. trials, as joy. Joy!?! He goes on to say trials produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, which is what we should be living for-the hope in Christ Jesus.
People say, “I’m going through the fire.” And, to be sure, it feels like a fire! As is true of turbulence, I don’t particularly care for fiery trials either. But the older I get, the more I realize life is full of turbulence and trials. No one escapes them. And even though I don’t like them, they’re meant for my betterment.
When trials fall upon us, there really isn’t anything we can do about it. The realization is no clearer than in those times of trials that we are not in control. We fall into, are dropped, pushed, shoved, or are led into “the fire.” Those verbs tell me it’s not something we choose.
A wise counselor once told me that we need to stop “doing” and instead just “be.” We keep ourselves busy doing, when what God really asks of us is to abide, to dwell, to rest, to wait, to be. To “be”—come all that He intended us to be. We need just to “be” and to experience and endure the fire. That’s hard, because it goes completely against our grain to refrain from getting caught up and overwhelmed in dealing with the fiery trials, the unfairness, the hurts, the turbulence of life. How is it possible to not let them overtake us? As long as we can “do” something, it gives us the false illusion that we can control our circumstances, our situation, our children, or our spouse.
I have recently been into the fire. Still am. In fact, my question now is, “Lord, just how hot is this fire gonna get?” And, of course, the ever popular, “How long is this going to last?”
I know I’m in good company, however. After all, the individual that quickly comes to mind when one thinks about trials and suffering is our friend Job. I just finished reading Charles Swindoll’s book on Job. It was a real eye opener, a real sobering look at what Job suffered through, and how he amazingly kept his integrity and his faith in God through it all.
So if we are not in control of the fiery trials we encounter, what, if anything, can we do about them? Is there any choice we can exercise when life heats up? Fact is, we cannot escape from them. We’re in for the duration. And it is God, and God alone, who determines for us just how long they will last.
After pondering this for some time, I’ve come to the conclusion we have at least two choices—actually, maybe only two choices-when it comes to fiery trials we encounter. Nevertheless, here’s what appears to me to be the choices we’re given.
We can choose denial. We’ve all heard of people who have been successful walking over hot coals and, supposedly, their feet don’t get burned. And, I presume, we could continue to make statements to the effect that there really isn’t any fire at all, it’s only our imagination that the temperature is rising and beads of sweat are running down our face. But eventually, when we find ourselves sitting in a heap of ashes, we’re going to have to admit that something—or someone—burned up!
The second choice would be to watch and learn what it is that’s being burned up. If God chooses to burn off something of us or in us, then we can be assured that it was either not needed or it was causing more harm to us than good. OUCH! That hurts! Burning occurs and ashes are left. So, what do we do with the ashes?
In researching this in the Bible, I found that ashes were used as a symbol of mourning, for repentance of sin, and in purification from sin. Abraham, in Genesis 18:27, acknowledges that, “I am nothing but dust and ashes … ” And in Isaiah 61:3 we read, “… and provide for those who grieve in Zion-to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes … “
One approach is to continue to sit on our heap of ashes, wallow in them, allow them to blacken our body with soot, and take on the pungent odor of something that’s been burned. We can continue to mourn our losses, lick our wounds, feel sorry for our self, and cry out, “Just leave me alone to sit in my ashes!”
Or, there is another option. We can take a long, hard look at the remains (the ashes) of our sins: something that was weighing us down, something unnecessary, something or someone hindering us from what are God’s plans to be formed and shaped to His image. Only then can we comprehend this pruning of sorts occurring; consequently, there becomes less of us in order that more of Him can shine through us. Then, we finally are free to gather up the ashes and give them back to our precious Lord as an offering. Once we’ve done this, we will begin to see the purifying process come about in us. The dross melts away. (Again I go to Webster‘s, which defines dross as: impurity; inferior, trivial, or worthless matter.) This fire must be an all-consuming fire in order to produce the finest, purest, holiest outcome. The result? Someone who now better reflects the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
So, what do we do with the ashes? Learn from them. Thank God for loving us so much that He is in the fire with us working to perfect us to His image. Be glad for them. Ashes are a reminder we need Christ, because we’re NOT perfect—He is! Remember: God wants to exchange our ashes for a crown of beauty!