Beauty from ashes…does it really happen?
I never really understood the devastation of California wildfires until my friend’s brother and family lost their home to this run-a-way destructive force. One minute they had a home, business, and community, and in the next it all went up in smoke. Only ashes remained.
I wondered what I would do if at moment’s notice I needed to pack what I could and drive away as they did. As they watched the news from a distance, I wondered what was going through their minds, and how I could pray for all they were feeling. Life can be extremely unpredictable in so many ways. So what does it mean that God can make beauty from ashes?
The spiritual meaning of ashes
What does ashes mean spiritually?
In the Bible, ash frequently represents grief. When calamity occurred, such as loss of health, wealth, family, or other important things, people mourned by sitting in ashes.
Can you imagine taking your fireplace ashes and sitting in them? What an ugly picture.
But isn’t loss just as ugly?
If you loose a child, it is ugly. If you get a bad diagnosis, it is ugly. These types of things can devastate us. They can make our stomachs churn and feel like they will turn inside out. We just want it to be a bad dream that we wake up from to find all is well.
Beauty from Ashes Bible Verse
The “beauty from ashes” Bible verse is found in the book of Isaiah. It reads:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV, bold added for emphasis
The writer identifies a couple of situations that cause people grief and despair: severe poverty, broken hearts, and being in captivity. They needed good news back then and we often do today.
What is fascinating is that the words “beauty” and “ashes” in the original Hebrew language use all the same letters, but in different order. Pheer = beauty and epher = ashes. So literally, one comes from the other.
I don’t believe this is a coincidence. To be able to say beauty comes from ashes (pheer comes from epher) is a God thing. It surely had special meaning to the Israelites at the time it was written.
Beauty from ashes meaning
What does it mean to bring beauty from ashes?
It is always good to interpret Scripture with Scripture, thereby not taking one verse out of context. And we can do that with “beauty for ashes.” There are other Bible verses that proclaim good news to those who are hurting.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 ESV
God can turn anything bad into something good. However, He does not promise this to everyone. The promise is to those who love Him. And that we can count on.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20 NIV
Scripture also encourages us to take an active part in the production of beauty from the ashes of our lives.
God is in the business of comforting those who love Him, and He in turn asks us to pass it on to others who need it.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV
Modern examples of beauty from ashes
Most of us value family and friends. Yet these ties can easily be broken. Sometimes it is through death. Other times it is through broken promises.
Can good eventually come from broken hearts or other losses?
Scripture says it can, and countless individuals testify that it does.
#1 Joni and Friends
Many ministries and services have been born out of tragedy. Joni Earekson Tada has been paralyzed since she was 17 years old from a swimming accident. She is quoted as saying, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Notice, God does not cause these things to happen. They occur because we live in a fallen world. So, since these things will and do happen, God in His redemptive power brings something good out of them.
This is the beauty from ashes that ‘Joni and Friends’ has. They provide wheelchairs, emotional support, and many other blessings to disabled individuals worldwide.
#2 Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth Elliot was an iconic missionary who lost two husbands to death. One was murdered, while the other died of cancer.
Following these losses, she had a lifelong ministry encouraging others to trust God even in the difficult places of life. That was her experience of beauty from ashes. And much to her surprise, God gave her a third husband to share that ministry with.
#3 The Creator’s Classroom
My personal story of beauty from ashes started with two unwanted divorces.
I could have thrown up my hands and said that life was not worth it. Yet, God in His goodness helped me learn that He loved and adored me when others did not.
He would be faithful to me even when others were not. And He would meet my needs when others simply could not.
My ministry would never have come about had I not gone through the ashes of lost relationships. And because I am single again, I can speak with confidence and authenticity to my readers.
Can you trust God with the ashes of your life?
All of us will at some point have something important go up in flames like the California wildfires. And assuredly, it will feel like there is nothing left but ashes. We each have our stories. Yours may be:
- Loss of a job
- Re-location to somewhere you didn’t want to go
- A bad diagnosis
- A wayward child
- Death of someone you love
- Not being accepted into a graduate program
- Your reputation ruined by false accusations
- ______________ (you fill in the blank)
There is nothing pretty about ashes. That is, unless we allow God to form them into something beautiful. He can, and He will if we let Him.
How to pray for beauty from ashes
God loves each of us dearly. So much so, that He was willing to die for us. Furthermore, He knew that we would encounter difficult circumstances in life. He wants to be our comfort in those situations. When we love God through a relationship with Jesus, we then can pray like this:
Life has been hard. Sometimes I am not sure that I will survive the pain. At times I feel angry about it all. How grateful I am that you will not reject me for these feelings.
You know that I am human and stumble spiritually. Thank you, Lord, that you pick me up and help me keep moving forward.
Thank you that you always have comfort for me. Just now, I confess that I don’t know how you make beauty from ashes, but your Word says it, so I choose to believe it.
Give me courage and strength to keep moving forward. And may I someday be able to give someone else the same comfort that you are giving me now.”
Final thoughts on Beauty from ashes
There is nothing beautiful about life traumas. But God does not leave us hanging there.
Through the writer Isaiah, God’s people are promised that He will bring beauty from life’s ashes. Even the spelling of the Hebrew words verify that one comes from the other.
Beauty from ashes is not just a hypothetical exercise. Countless people down through the ages have witnessed this phenomenon in their lives. You can too.
Beauty from ashes really does happen for those who love God.
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