Sunday, February 2, 2020
This morning I read a passage in Isaiah 61 that got me thinking. The first seven verses are clearly a prophecy about the Messiah’s coming redemption. This was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Who brings good news to the afflicted, liberty to captives, freedom to prisoners, and comfort to those who mourn. “To grant to those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes.” This is reminiscent of Hannah’s song of praise and thanksgiving after the Lord finally opened her womb and she conceived and birthed the prophet Samuel: “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He sets the world on them” (I Samuel 2:8).
Raising us up out of the ash heap is a fitting description, for most think of ashes as something completely useless and nasty. Cleaning out the ashes was always one of my least favorite tasks! But ashes also have a wonderful, almost miraculous quality which I discovered a few years ago.
We had just had a wood stove insert placed in our fireplace as our chimney had been condemned as a fire hazard. This was extremely distressing to Kathie and me as we love our fireplaces in the winter. The insert and its installation would cost about half of what the repairs to the chimney would since the stove has its own chimney liner. Keep in mind, this chimney, like this part of our home, is approximately 230 years old! And so I set about shopping for an adequate insert that would not only provide the appropriate heat but keep the ambiance of the fire in the fireplace we’d come to love during the winter months. The solution was a wood stove that had a glass door on the front, which would enable us to also see the fire.
Being new to using a wood stove, I soon learned that it was very easy for that glass door to become so covered with creosote, that the fire was impossible to see through the glass, and no glass cleaner I had in the house would even barely touch the mess on the inside of the door.
And so I set about researching how to clean the glass front of a wood stove. I soon learned there are two very effective ways to do this, which cost nothing. One way was to burn a very hot fire, with the flu open fully. Eventually, all the crud on the door will disappear. The other way to clean the smoke-darkened glass was to actually use the ash itself. I’d take a wad of wet newspaper, dip it into some ash (without any embers), and gently rub it onto the glass window. This does an amazing job turning the dark glass into a sparkling window again – with little effort!
There may be a very different cultural meaning meant by the prophet Isaiah, for ashes were used in their mourning rituals at the time, I believe. But what a picture for us! Indeed, fire does a very good job in refining us and restoring us to a right relationship to the Lord. Peter tells us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exaltation” (I Peter 4:12-13). This is God’s refining fire. Isaiah said, “Behold, I have refined you but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). Just like fire is good for a forest, and if it’s hot enough, it will cleanse and refine the glass of the front of a wood stove, so it does with us. Look at the test Daniel’s friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had to go through! Yet Christ was with them through the fire when they remained faithful. Perhaps this influenced Daniel to write, “And some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge, and make them pure, until the end time…” (Daniel 11:35).
Even if God allows us to be brought to the ash heap, as with Job, we are to remain faithful to Him through the fire. There must be nothing which could sway us from following Christ! And when we are confronted with difficult choices, we must always do the right thing without a thought! We are not to find excuses, or justify ourselves in not doing the right thing or helping someone who needs our help! We are not to tell ourselves, or them, “Well, let me pray about it,” when in fact it is the only right option. These choices are put in front of us to test us, and we must not fail in following in Christ’s footsteps of personal sacrifice – no matter the consequences! As Daniel stated, the times will continue to get much worse for us Christians, and I hope when God picks me up out of the ashes, giving me a garland instead of ashes, that I can be of use in convincing believers not to flinch when it comes to giving our lives for Him and for others. For that is all that matters in the end!