[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 which will be rewarded. Every time we take a step that God requires of us He rewards us just as a Father would reward a child for doing their chores with an allowance. When we take that step, doors will begin to open for us.
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. We recognize that it’s God that will do that work in us.
When I was baptized I didn’t understand all of this, but I felt that it was something that I should do. I guess I felt that it was a requirement that I should fulfill. It took me five years from the time that I decided to follow God before I finally took that plunge. Why it took me so long was mostly due to my stage fright. (low self-esteem, and social anxiety) However, as baptism was announced again one Sunday morning, I felt that prodding from God. I knew that if I didn’t just do it I’d never do it, so I turned to Andrew and said, “I want to be baptized.” God did reward it; I began to grow and learn things that I once hadn’t understood.
I struggled quite a bit during those first years before my baptism. I thought I was a terrible Christian because I couldn’t understand the things that I was reading, including God’s love. I used to think that God was so hard and angry as I read through the Old Testament. Now, I see something very different. It’s difficult to put it into words, so I just keep writing, but I do see His grace and His Mercy even in the Old Testament.
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. Beauty, therefore, CAN come out of ashes.
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every 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.” –Acts 2:38
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’” –Acts 22:16
“Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging Him on a cross. God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that He might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” –Acts 5:29-32
“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