Every man or woman, boy or girl -- rich or poor, young or old -- is born with a destiny, a purpose in life to fulfill, a calling of God. No one is left out of God's plan in this earth. No life is left to chance. Do you have a vision? What is your calling in life? What will you do when your life vision fails, when your fondest dreams crumble around you, when all that once seemed important to you is shattered and dissipated and blown to the wind. Christian, what will you do when you wake up one day and find that your life vision has turned to ashes?
by Jerry Gentry
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, 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" (Isa. 61:3).
Job was a dedicated man, "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). He prayed daily and offered up sacrifices for his children. Then one day Job woke up to reports of the devastation of his flocks, the destruction of his property, and the bloody death of all his children. Soon his body was smitten with boils and cankers. As he sat among the sorrowful ashes of a burned out life vision, even his wife taunted him, saying, "Curse God, and die!"
Of the prophet Jeremiah, God said, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jer 1:5). Yes, Jeremiah was set apart from before birth to be a great man of God. Later, Jeremiah laments the fact that much of his personal life was spent in prison, where he was "many days. . . cast. . . into the dungeon. . . let down. . . with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire" (Jer. 37:16; 38:6). Now if you have ever visited an ancient European castle, you know that the dungeon is the lowest, darkest, most remote room in the castle, full of muck and mire, where refuse is tossed. Jeremiah must have often felt that his great life vision had turned into ashes.
David tended his father's sheep. He rescued the little lambs from predators, and even killed a lion and a bear, with his own hands. The prophet Samuel visited David's father one day and sought out a future king. One by one, David's older brothers were rejected, until at last Samuel called for David and anointed him to be king over Israel, a great calling indeed. How could this young shepherd boy, a mere teenager, ever assume the kingly office? David's anointing drew him into battle where he single-handedly killed Goliath and rescued the nation of Israel from the Philistines. David was celebrated as a great hero. Even the women came out singing, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1Sam. 18:7).
Such praise of young David incensed King Saul, who later repeatedly sought to thrust David through with his javelin. David was forced to flee for his life. He became despised and lived on the run, from cave to cave, seeing his life vision of ruling as king turn into ashes. It was many years later, after Saul's death in battle, that David actually took the throne and exchanged the ashes of a fugitive's life for the beauty of kingship in God's good time.
The apostle Paul was a zealous man. As a graduate of the prestigious school of Gamaliel, he had memorized all the first five books of the Bible. He knew the law of God like the back of his hand. He persecuted members of the sect called Christians, which brought him high esteem among the ruling party, the Pharisees, of his day. Then one day, his life vision was shattered. He was struck down with blindness. Trembling before God, he saw his respectable life end in a heap of ashes. God called him to join the very sect he had previously persecuted. Yes, his life vision turned to ashes that momentous day under the blinding light of God on the road to Damascus.
Have you ever experienced the death of a life vision? Have you ever seen your life turn from beauty into ashes? If not, then know that Job's trial is not unique to him. Jeremiah's calling is not above your very own. King David's purpose cannot eclipse that of God's purpose for you. And even the apostle Paul's experience has a parallel in your life also. Ashes for beauty and beauty for ashes is a pattern for every person who will be called Christian. In the end, Job brought the ashes of his failed life vision, laid them on the altar before God, and received the beauty of a vision reborn, and far greater than anything he could have imagined before. As Job made that momentous exchange&emdash;ashes for beauty&emdash;he was able to say of his God, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5).
Job exchanged the ashes of a burned out life vision for the beauty of a life restored by and in the will of God.
Saul "made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3). Many years later, as the apostle Paul, he tells how he "suffered the loss of all things" (Phil. 3:8) for the cause of Christ. His life of persecuting Christians finally turned to ashes. As Saul yielded under the sovereign hand of God, he exchanged those ashes of persecution for the beauty of a new vision of preaching the gospel from Jerusalem all the way to the isles, as "a chosen vessel unto me [God}, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15).
Ashes for beauty and "beauty for ashes." What are the ashes identified in your life? Are you clinging deep down to something you know God does not approve of? Through personal repentance and accountability, you can exchange those ashes for the beauty of life at the center of God''s will. God is calling you to exchange the ashes of your burned out life of sin and iniquity and pursuit of personal pleasures for the beauty of God's will. This requires your submission. Are there remains of bitterness or doubt or fear or unbelief or self will or pride left in your life? Then bring those sins to the altar of God, declare them as ashes in remembrance of a failed life vision, submit yourself to God, and receive the beauty of a new life framed by the faith of Christ. "Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay" (Job 13:12). It is not enough to believe in Jesus Christ. God is looking for the gold of His faith working in you. Jesus said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
The Bible says that everyone's work will be tried in the fires of tribulation. "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1Cor. 3:15). When God turns up the heat of great tribulation, will your work "be burned" to ashes to be trodden under foot of men? Or will your work survive as "gold tried in the fire?" Every Christian must ultimately face the question, "What is God's will for my life?" The answer to that question will determine whether you are producing only ashes to be cast out, or precious "gold tried in the fire."
Will your work survive the fires of the coming tribulation? Are you actually seeking to do God's will as taught in the Bible? Are you voluntarily submitting to the authority of God's Word? Are you doing your own thing? The Bible says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise" (Prov. 12:15). When did you last seek out the counsel of someone wiser than you? Do you pray, "Thy will be done?" Or are you busy in pursuit of your own will? Is your life producing the beauty of good fruit anchored in the faith of Jesus Christ? Will you "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16)?
Ashes for beauty, and "beauty for ashes."
Job lived through a time of great destruction of his life vision, whereby his life was literally reduced to a heap of ashes. He was criticized and even unjustly condemned by his friends. Yet out of that great pile of ashes and destruction, God grew a new life vision for Job, who had then learned about God: "I know that thou canst do every thing" (Job 42:2).
"Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (v. 6). Modern psychology says, "I'm OK, You're OK." That is a life vision traveling along in the comfort zone of self will and presumption, soon to crash and burn in the fires of coming tribulation. Can you say with Job, "I abhor myself?" Can you exchange the ashes of your self will for the beauty of God's will by faith?
When Job prayed for his friends, God accepted him and restored him double. "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10).
Jesus taught, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25). Will you lose your life in hot pursuit of the will of God? If not, get ready to lose your life in the fires of tribulation. There is no other choice. God will ultimately have His way with His children. We can make it easy or we can make it hard. We can go down voluntarily, or we can go down kicking and screaming. But go down we must. Will a man fight God?
There is a great promise of Jesus to all who yield voluntarily by choice to His calling: "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
"But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mar 10:29-30).
Jeremiah experienced a great calling of God. In yielding his own life up as ashes to God, he found a life at the heart of God's will. He experienced little luxury while bogged down in the muck and refuse of the dark dungeon. Yet he experienced an austere comfort and beauty, with persecution, in knowing his life was at the heart of God's will.
The young shepherd boy David experienced the ecstasy of victory over Goliath and the Philistines. Later he fell into sin with Bathsheba. His life turned to ashes of a derailed and failed plan. On confessing his sin, and begging God, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," (Ps. 51:10) he yielded up the ashes of his self will and personal sin for God's greater work in his life. His repentance was genuine, because later God said of David, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will" (Acts 13:22). Do you envision your life as basically good, only that you have made just a few mistakes? If so, brother and sister, you are clinging to the ashes of your own self will. You are living in self delusion. Can you admit with Jeremiah, that your "heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it" (Jer 17:9)? Can you say, with Job, "I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes?" Can you say with the Psalmist: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God" (Ps. 42:1)? Can you say with the apostle Paul: "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil 3:8)?
If you can say these things, you have begun your exchange of ashes for beauty. By giving up your own self will for God's will you will find "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that. . . [you] might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified" (Isa. 61:3)
Will you today bring the ashes of your own sin and self will and pursuit of personal pleasures to the altar of God? Will you purposefully lose your life in hot pursuit of the will of God? Will you seek God with all your heart? Only then will you experience the flowering of God's will as it rises up from your very personal heap of ashes. Only then will you see "beauty for ashes" as you yield yourself to God's will for your life.