Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent season leading up to Easter. Now I preface this devotional with the truth on this matter … just a few years ago I had no clue what Ash Wednesday was. Our family had moved to El Paso Texas and there we were surrounded by the traditional Hispanic Catholic families. I’m talking about people who NEVER missed church … ever. And one day while in line to pick up our kids from school, I saw a woman with a smudge of black on her forehead. I immediately assumed it was a huge makeup fail in the worst ways, or some type of bizarre bruise, nearly resembling a cross. And then another woman with a similar mark. What in the world was happening here? Soon most of the moms at the school were marked in the same way and I was clearly the weird one with a clean forehead.
This was my introduction to Ash Wednesday. These women, who were Roman Catholic, had gone to services that day and had ashes rubbed on their foreheads.
To me it seemed such an unusual anointing. The dark smudge on the forehead is ashes in the shape of a cross as a mark of death. And with a little research I learned it’s not just a mark of death, but a mark of true life.
A reminder of Genesis 3:19 “you were made from the dust, and to dust you will return.”
Life is short and fleeting, and soon this will all be over. You were given life today to live, one day your time will run out and there will be no more opportunities to live. But honey, you’ve got today … what will you do with it?
It’s easy to forget the big picture when we’re puzzled with the placement of all the little pieces. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in the madness of the moment, forgetting moments are all we have and wasting this one with stress and worry will certainly not help us savor the next one any better.
The ashes many receive today in honor of Ash Wednesday are the charred remains of the palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday. We remember the laying of palm leaves on the path Jesus walked before his arrest and crucifixion. Now those palms which were a sign of goodness and victory, are now burned and used as a mark of death. Ashes.
What does God do with ashes? Isaiah 61:3 says he trades our ashes for beauty. All that went up in smoke, that which burst into flames, burned in destruction, all that fell apart and no longer exists … yes, this is what God turns into something beautiful.
What are your ashes? Ashes are the evidence of a fire that destroyed. The remains of a dream that went up in smoke. The remnants of a woman who is burned out. These are ashes.
We all have them. We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all messed up. We’ve all been scorched by the fires of life … but we don’t have to live as women who are just a pile of rubble after the destruction.
No, God promises beauty for ashes.
What does this mean? This means you can take your heaping pile of all you’ve ever given up on in life, all that seems too far gone and hopeless, all that appears to be ruined and EXCHANGE IT FOR BEAUTY. Something magnificent for something malfunctioning. Something beneficial for something broken. Something desirable for something destitute. Something worthy for something worthless.
This is what Jesus did. This is what we remember today on Ash Wednesday. His life was given to save our life.
Beauty for ashes.
A beautiful life for a burned out life.
That’s like trading in your 20 year old junker Honda that barely runs for a brand spanking new Range Rover with rims. If you heard that deal advertised on TV wouldn’t you drop everything you were doing and get yourself to the car dealership? Oh you bet you would.
And listen to me here, God is offering something worth so much more than a car. Imagine the adds, TRADE IN YOUR OLD DISAPPOINTMENTS AND FAILURES FOR A BRAND NEW EXCITING PURPOSE FILLED LIFE.
Wouldn’t you find a way to get yourself wherever you needed to be to redeem that offer? Will you today?
The offer is available to you right now. Beauty for ashes.
God does not leave your heartbreak unredeemed! He doesn’t leave your failure unforgiven. He doesn’t leave you! You, he’s coming back for you! You’re not being left behind. He’s coming back to take whatever you have left and create something beautiful, worthy, meaningful, and life changing with it.
Whatever your ashes are, God is offering you beauty in exchange today. But that means you have to GIVE UP the ashes. You have to give up being a victim. You can’t hold on to your ashes and carry them around for everyone to see. You have to make the EXCHANGE. Beauty for ashes. Turn over your heartache. Turn over your failure. Turn over your disappointment. Turn over your hurt. Release it. It no longer belongs to you. And you know what’s really powerful about this… When the pain no longer belongs to you, YOU NO LONGER BELONG TO THE PAIN.
And with your release of the ashes, God gives you beauty.
He gives you purpose. He gives you a passion. He sets your feet on a path to use every ounce of struggle for good in this world.
Truly understanding God’s continual offer of beauty for your ashes brings a confidence unlike anything else.
Here’s what I mean …
I can take some bold steps in my life, I can go out on a limb, I can chase a dream, I can go for it and KNOW I AM NOT BEYOND FAILURE. I am not immune to all that could go wrong. I am not clueless in my pursuit. I know this may not work out the way I imagined. I’ve face planted before and I likely have several more of those ahead of me.
But because I have 100% confidence in my God’s promise of taking my ashes and exchanging them for beauty, I can boldly show up for living today. I can confidently take the next step on my journey. Not because I have a guarantee it’s going to be successful, but because I have a promise that even if it goes up in smoke, God will take the ashes and give me something beautiful.
Hey sister, even if this doesn’t all work out the way you imagined. Even if you fail. Even if this falls apart. Even if worst case scenario ends up being your real life scenario, you have a God who loves you wildly and he’s already gone before you in any fire. He already has a plan for the ashes and he will make them into something beautiful.
Don’t live in fear of the ashes. Ashes remind us of the truth … the truth that we came from dust and we will return to dust. This is all just temporary. Time is short, don’t waste it. Go for it. Live it. Seize it.
Beauty for ashes.
May the mark of death be a reminder of the opportunity to live fully today. A mark not of your past failures or possible future failures, but of the promised beauty in exchange. A mark of the exchange Jesus made for you.