Monday, 13 August 2012

Ashes, mourning and heaviness - or beauty, joy and praise?

There are times in our lives that we can feel utterly disheartened, discouraged and overwhelmed.

Times when we simply feel that we are unable to get out of bed and do a single thing.

When we get up, make a start, and things still tumble down around us.  No matter how we try, things just.go.wrong.

Day after day, we can slog along - struggling.  Drowning in despair and gasping for some air of hope.

But, the thing is - it's there.  We don't need to feel this way!

When I was studying through the book of Isaiah in my daily readings, I was amazed by how many powerful verses of scripture that were there.  I was reminded of one of them, again, today.  You will understand why when you watch the video that I will be sharing below.

"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." 
Isaiah 61:3

To fully understand these verses, it helps to get some perspective and context regarding the time these words were written.  These were written by the prophet Isaiah, to the Jewish captives in Babylon.  They had been forcibly removed from their homeland, many years before, and had lived out their exile in a foreign land.  It was a difficult time for God's people, in a place that was not home, and held trial upon trial.  They probably thought they would never see their homeland again.  But, it was not the case, and Isaiah was sent to proclaim to them that their time in exile was coming to an end!

These people are described in a way that helps us to picture their desperation and depression.





All these clearly paint a picture of a dejected and broken people.

But, there was good news!!! They were to be set free from their captivity!!  They were going home!!

When you look at the detail in our verse, you gain a greater understanding of the depths of their condition.  When you see what God was needing to replace, you will see the desperation of their predicament.

"ashes"  - it's not just a slight singe.  Nor even a bit of a blaze.  They are reduced to ashes. You only get ashes when the fire has virtually consumed the entirety of the thing that has been ravaged by fire.  It's the very last of what is left, after the heat has gone and the flames have done their work.  It's the very end of the process.  You can't get more burnt up than the ashes.  It was these ashes that were used to indicate sorrow and mourning in Bible times.  

"mourning" - mourning is a response to the deepest and darkest of losses.  If a fly is squished, we don't mourn its passing.  If we drop some money in the street, we don't go into mourning.  No, mourning is reserved for the extreme of loss.  The depths of sadness and despair.  

"spirit of heaviness" - are there times when you feel so downcast that you feel a heaviness, dragging right down in your heart? When you have no motivation, or impetus to get things done?

All in all, this is misery personified.

But, we have a gracious and wonderful God.

He is the one who maps out our life, and allows the twists and turns that our path takes.  It is HE who chooses to plot our journey through the hard times as well as the smooth.  And, the good news is that He has given us the anti-dote for times like these.  A hope in the heat of trial and difficulty.

He has gifted us with life out of the flames of trial.  With a Holy ointment, to ease the wounds in our life.

What does He give us?  He turns things right around.  He gives us perspective.

We have beauty, instead of ashes.  In Bible times, they wore beautiful headdresses at times of festivity, as opposed to putting ashes on their head in times of mourning. 

What beauty can we possibly "put on" in the midst of trial?  We can see the beauty of a Saviour who has born all of our sins, in His own body, upon that cruel cross of Calvary.  Who has died in our place, so that we never have to suffer the punishment of hell.  That One who has paid the ultimate sacrifice, with love and joy, in our stead.  When we fix our eyes upon the beauty of our Saviour, how can we see the ashes?  He can transform our sadness's into a thing of beauty, if we allow the love of Christ to permeate our souls.  To see His love and grace, instead of our struggles and trials.  If He has born all for us, we surely can bear the struggles we face on this earth.

We have the oil of joy, instead of mourning.  In times of rejoicing, they would have annointed themselves with beautiful oils.  We, too, need to look to the Lord to anoint us with the oil of the Holy Spirit.  To be awakened to the realisation that He dwells within us, to strengthen, help and uphold us.  that He alone can give us strength in these difficult times. How can we be anything but joyful, when we remember all of the grace and goodness of God in our lives?

We have a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of heaviness.  Do you ever find that putting on the right clothes makes you feel better?  I know of people who, on days when they feel down, don't get out of their PJ's.  So many  have said, that simply getting dressed can make them feel better.  Like they are ready for getting things done.  It's the same with our lives.  We have to CHOOSE to put on that garment of praise.  To have a life praising God, instead of dwelling on circumstances.  To rejoice instead of regret. To lift our eyes to the one who can give us satisfaction, only in Himself.

The last part of the verse really sums things up.

"that he might be glorified"

No matter what we experience in life, our focus must be  upon glorifying God.  It is not God-glorifying to look at what is going wrong, and to take our focus off the Lord.  To feel self-pitying and miserable.  There is a time for godly sorrow.  There is nothing un-Biblical about being sad when tragedy occurs.  We are human, and even the Lord himself wept at the grave of Lazarus, when He KNEW that Lazarus would shortly be alive again!!! But, it's the self-pitying and "poor me" attitude that is not right.  It's pretty much guaranteed that no matter what you are going through, someone has been through worse!  Ultimately, we need to also remember that God is sovereign, and all is for His glory and our good.

With all of this in mind, I am continually amazed at God and how He works in the lives of His children.  I am often utterly confounded by His ways and purposes.

The life of Joni Ereakson is one that I am amazed by.  For those of you who don't know who she is (and I am still amazed to find people who have not heard of her!), let me explain briefly.  At the age of 19, she made a foolish dive into the water.  I say foolish, because she was an experienced diver and didn't think about what she was doing, before she did it.  She says as much herself.  She broke her neck and was left paralysed in her lower limbs, and nearly completely paralysed in her upper limbs.  Yet, the Lord has been able to mightily use her to reach others with the gospel, and news of His love.  She has a continuing ministry to help those who are disabled, reaching them with the good news of salvation in Christ, and helping them practically.

If you follow the link below, you will find a short video (about 30 minutes) about what happened to her, and how God worked in her heart through the experience.  Joni also does amazing artwork!! So, watch it and be challenged.  Be challenged about how you look upon your own life experiences.  At how you view the circumstances that God has allowed in your life.  Remember that we must glorify God in our lives, by having that beauty, that joy and that praise!

Painting for God's Pleasure | Joni and Friends

I am having a break from my matriarchs for a month or so.  I have a busy couple of weeks coming up, culminating in our start back to school.  I also have a guest post when the matriarchs resume, which I am really excited about!

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