Ashes – the gray between death and new life, fire and new growth. The pause between the living sacrifice, and a purified beauty.
“Therefore I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Rom 12:1-2
An old friend and fellow youth worker always said, “The problem with living sacrifices, is that they crawl off the altar”. How many times have I surrendered something to the Lord, to later take it back? Or to have Him ask me to surrender in a deeper way or on a new level than before? Countless times!
Recently though I’ve encountered a new level of being a living sacrifice that has left me in something of a conundrum. What am I to do with the ashes after I’ve surrendered something completely to His will?
I echo Jim Elliot early in his relationship with Elisabeth as the Lord lead him to not pursue a relationship with her, so he (Jim) could go to Africa unattached. Despite his passionate feelings for her, he says
“’So I put you [Elisabeth] on the alter’ . . . and as the silence grew heavy . . . ‘And what is to be done with the ashes?’” – Passion and Purity
Jim and Elisabeth still had to see each other and be in each other’s lives for years before the Lord eventually brought them together. They lived with the gray ashes of their desires and dreams in front of their faces – daily – as they choose to be living sacrifices.
In all cases and in all types of surrender, the Lord brings beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3) – that’s what He is in the business of doing . Be it in physical nature when a forest fire rips through and a new healthy forest springs up, or spiritual sacrifice – He brings health and goodness from it. I know that, yet it’s the day in and day out living in the reality of the ashes before the beauty comes, that is the struggle.
I’m learning two major things through this season though! The first is that when there is nothing left but ashes – He is there! The I Am. That is beauty already! That is peace, joy and purpose! Strangely (and not!) on the heals of that, comes the desire to breathe life back into the ashes so I can crawl off again. I don’t like this pause and want to interpret what I think could possibly be God’s beauty coming on the horizon and force it into my timetable.
I certainly don’t want to go back to the way I was– I learned my lesson and that part is dead and sacrificed. But I don’t like living with the ashes either. It’s like wanting to pick the bud rather than letting the rose bloom. So many, many, pretty things to distract before the real beauty comes.
Here’s the thing. The devil knows he can’t tempt ashes with the sin or desires of the past – they are still on the altar of Christ’s sacrifice – but he can and will tempt with the almost good enough. Tempt with the counterfeit, surface, pretty things instead of the deep, lasting, beauty. If we’ve been through the pain of the living sacrifice, why in the world would we want to give up half way? Give up just before the sunrise?
I don’t like waiting as “we’re waiting but our eyes are wandering to all this world hold’s dear”. The waiting in the ashes is as much of a fight as the original altar was! Pretty Things by Tenth Ave North continues
“We are, we are, we’re caught in the in between. Of who we already are and who we are yet to be. And we’re looking for love but finding we’re still in need. It’s only what we have lost, will we be allowed to keep . . . Look at all the pretty things that steal my heart away. I can feel I’m fading. ‘Cause Lord I love so many things, that keep me from your face. Come and save me.”
So what is to be done with the ashes?
I don’t know. I don’t know if anything is to be done with them really. They have to remain so the beauty can rise up from them. Perhaps the ashes are a pause to give us a chance to live and walk out what we have sacrificed. It would be easy if the beauty came immediately – and then I wouldn’t need Him as much.
So if you’re in a time of ashes, remain faithful as He is faithful. The beauty will come in His time. Say no to the pretty things – know they will tempt you! 1 John 2 says that if ‘we know Him we will keep His commandments‘. Knowing Him leads to being a living sacrifice, to laying down the sinful desires, as well as ones we think are healthy. So don’t let go of that knowledge in the in-between of the ashes. He who promised is faithful.
*Special thanks to my Papa, who faithfully worked through his own time of ashes.
** Photo Complimets of Christine Britten – Yellowstone National Park – Volcanic Ash – for all of our adventures together! 🙂