Uneven exchange

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson was kind of an “intro-to-Christ” session since we’ll studying the New Testament this year. I was quite struck to hear one particular phrase in Isaiah 61:3:

3To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto themabeauty for ashes…

Beauty for ashes. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I must have come across that phrase before, but I probably had half-cohesive thoughts about having a pile of ashes and  Jesus giving me some kind of decorative rose to adorn the ashes I possessed. So the beauty and ashes would be a part of some sort of Mesopotamian household knickknack. This would have sounded weird to me, of course, but I would have just chalked that up to Isaiah being, well, Isaiah.

But in a flash yesterday I understood it differently. Jesus Christ will give me beauty in exchange for the ashes I have. There’s something I want to buy, and I know it’s far too expensive for me, but oh how I want it. And all I have is a handful of ashes. Perhaps I once had enough money to buy it, but I’ve wasted that and ashes are all I have left. Ashes. What kind of currency is that? Who needs a handful of ashes?

Well, I’m perfectly aware that God doesn’t need a handful of ashes any more than I do, but I’ve been told He is willing to accept them as payment for this thing I so desperately want. So I hope.  And I stand there, eyes downcast, feebly holding out my miserable fistful of soot and cinders.

And it’s enough. Because God’s whole work and purpose is to bring to pass my eternal life and happiness, He is willing to accept whatever I have, however small or seemingly worthless. Even if all I have is a handful of ashes – even if all I am is a handful of ashes – God is willing to accept, help, and love.

This was incredibly comforting to me. The last six months of 2010 felt kind of like I would imagine the refiner’s fire. Me being me, I’ve sometimes tried to grab the torch and do my own refining – and ended up with some odd-looking pieces, a few burn marks, and a handful of detritus. Incredibly, though, as I’ve turned to God, I’ve found Him willing to take me, pile of ashes and all. Moreover, He has promised (not just offered, but promised) to take my half-finished figures and my half-finished self and make them into the kind of refined works He is famous for. I guess I’ll give him what I’ve got and take what He gives me.

(P.S.: I know there are other interpretations – that where once was naught but ashes Christ provides beauty, for one – and that mine may even seem kind of odd. But this is what worked for me yesterday. And these days, if there is anything encouraging, comforting, or of good report or calming, I seek after these things.)

5 thoughts on “Uneven exchange

  1. My thought is that the ashes represented the mourning (as in “ashes and sackcloth”) and the ugliness that that represents, exchanged for the beauty of the gospel. Just thinking.

  2. I had never meditated on this phrase before, but your thoughts really resonate with me. I feel like my relationship with Christ could boil down to the fact that he continually gives me “beauty for ashes.” Thanks, Sylvia!

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