I remember exactly where we were when we got the phone call. We had just dropped off our kids to Children’s Ministry before heading to church. A seemingly ordinary Sunday routine. Standing in that hallway, my husband took the call, and then looked at me, “There’s been a fire.”
My sister-in-law and her husband had hired a mover to move all their household belongings from San Antonio to Dallas. Halfway there, the moving truck caught on fire. Basically, all their life’s possessions went up in flame or were destroyed from smoke. The fallout was immediate. They had little more than the clothes on their back and had to eventually replace complete wardrobes for five people. Their kids’ toys! Imagine melted Legos, singed stuff animals, a wrecked doll house; you know, stuff of nightmares. You’ve heard that adage about, “If you could save three things in a fire, what would you grab?” They never had that chance. Christmas ornaments lovingly collected on trips: gone. Family heirlooms: literally up in smoke. Furniture: burnt. An overwhelming disaster any side you look at it.
“To all who mourn 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 (Isaiah 61:3).
To understand the significance of this verse is to understand the biblical context. In these times, ashes were a sign of mourning over loss, natural disaster, desperate situation or repentance. Ashes were associated with tragedy. (Note: See Esther 4: 3 and Jeremiah 6:26 for examples.) This is key for us to understand God’s promises in context.
My sister-in-law has an eye for beauty. She’s naturally gifted with the ability to put together stylish yet warm spaces. After struggling through the mess of insurance for up to an agonizing year, they eventually created a new home that was beyond their imagination. Walking through the door of that house for the first time, I marveled in God’s goodness and in His creativity. God took the bad and made something good out of it.
Beauty for ashes.
My sister-in-law’s new space could rival any HGTV designer’s dreams with its inviting flow, light-filled windows and cozy, layered décor. They regularly open their home to family, friends, a revolving crew of camp counselors in the summer, small groups and neighbors. All are welcome. But hospitality is nothing new to them that only a new home inspired. After waiting what seemed like an immensely long time in a cramped apartment and living on hastily borrowed hand-me-downs, their family still praised, obeyed and served God despite their circumstances. They served God not because of what He could do for them but for what He’s already done. Their lives were wisely built on the Rock of Christ.
Although their moving truck never made it to Dallas intact, their lifestyle of worship remained unceasing. Now, I don’t want you to think that I believe their physical blessings were the only beauty or the most important treasure of this story. No, there was intangible beauty that God was building into my in-laws. Released momentarily from the baggage of earthly goods, they faithfully continued their ministry in God’s Spirit. They brought with them from San Antonio a prayer ministry to Dallas and still serve faithfully together on the team. Their desire was to serve God and others who are stuck in bondage to sin and hurt, and they rebuilt that dream in a new city. When disaster could have broken them, they came through the fire with their faith intact. Stronger. Refined through the fire. Beauty for ashes.
For the rest of us, how can we find beauty when it all seems like ash? What if the happy ending seems a bit charred?
When our dreams fall apart, when our kids disappoint us, when our marriages fail, when our physical body falters, when it seems like all hell has been loosed on earth, we look to the One who is beautiful in His own right. Examine your life. Where do you spend your most time? What would you want preserved more than anything if you could grab it in a fire? If everything has been burned away, would you know that Jesus is enough? Would you see beauty for ashes? This is a challenge to me as it is to you.
My prayer for all of us today is to be able to build our lives like the psalmist
in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.”