[Letting go and allowing God: beauty for ashes]
It was an ongoing theme in television and movies (maybe it still is. I don’t know), to burn something as a ritualistic symbol of letting go and moving on. Fire is destructive, so it makes for a great visual and metaphorical expression of release.
Growing up on a farm, bonfires were always a big deal to my brothers and I. For our parents, bonfires were an opportunity to get rid of old refuse around the yard, but for us kids it was the main event. We’d happily gather whatever needed to be discarded, and then toss it all into the Fire.
My younger brother had always held so tightly to his security blanket (more precisely, his “baw baw”) until that fateful day, when he was goaded into throwing it into the flames. When he realized that it was irretrievable, however, he was understandably upset. Sometimes, the hardest things to let go of are the things that keep holding us in a place where we are unable to grow up, and move forward. Unwittingly, my little brother had a little help getting past his insecurity.
When people burn old letters or photographs they are performing the very same act. (I’ve never burnt letters or pictures myself, but I have torn them to pieces and thrown them into the trash. It’s the very same thing.) We need that physical act to move on. When people physically discard things, they are essentially allowing themselves to let go of the pain of the past, so that they can move forward without anything left to hinder them.
For the Christian, baptism is our way of letting go and allowing God the go ahead in our lives. When we stand before others as we take that plunge (literally) we are publicly showing our commitment to God. It’s also a required step of obedience. It’s through hearing the word of God, then receiving it (believing it and trusting it), and then finally publicly showing that commitment (baptism), that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We want to receive the Spirit because the Spirit helps us to understand the things of God; He comforts us; He counsels us; He helps us to do the things that God wants; and He intercedes for us when we pray. However, the Holy Spirit won’t do all of the work for us; we must read, pray and act on what God wants us to do, but a person who is lead by the Spirit will bear good fruit. Even a stubborn heart can be changed.
“Peter said to them, “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away. It is for everyone the Lord our God calls to Himself.” –Acts 2:38-39 (NCV)
Baptism is really no different than throwing things into the fire. Essentially we are throwing it all into the fire: our past and ourselves, which we vow to trust to God. Much like the mythical phoenix, we too shall rise again from the ashes as Jesus has His way in our hearts. He is the only One who can perform this “heart surgery” that we so desperately need. If we should stumble and fall along life’s ways, we always have that hope in Jesus who has already paid the price for our sins. When we ask for that forgiveness, we receive it, allowing us to rise yet again.
“Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous, do not plunder their dwelling place; for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. –Proverbs 24:15-16
“Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” –Micah 7:8
Because water symbolizes being cleansed by God, through baptism we declare that it’s only God Himself who can cleanse us from all impurity, and that we are sinners saved only by His grace. Because God is our all consuming fire, He can destroy and remove anything that has a hold over us, and restore us to Him– IF we give Him that go ahead to do so.
Much like my little brother had help letting go of what he held so tightly to, we too have that help in Jesus Christ Who took our sin upon Himself. It’s through Him alone that we receive Salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We just have to throw it all into the fire. Thankfully, God is also the One who can douse the flames and exchange our ashes for a crown of beauty.
“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for His own glory.” –Isaiah 61:3