// Out of the Ashes //
I’m convinced trees have life more-or-less figured out. Seriously, I have come to appreciate what they have to teach us along our own spiritual journeys (thanks, Brian Ford). They are dependent on and patient with what they are given— a tiny seed placed in something so much bigger than itself. Rooted in the present, while all the while aware of a higher-arching call. At the will of their provider, for better or for worse. And, perhaps most importantly, willing to submit to the dangerous process of blooming, despite whatever costs might be associated.
It has always been strangely comforting to me that death is used to breed life. I’m not sure there can be a more powerful beginning than one that comes forth from an ending— like a sunrise that breaks the grip of its darkest night or a plant that must shed itself to truly bloom. There is strength in their submission. There is a prolonged power in their letting go.
Ash Wednesday will forever be one of my favorite events on the spiritual calendar. There is no better teacher of intention than the compelling seasons of spiritual transition. Year over year, I find the most valuable growth to rest in the in-betweens of the big moments, the phases of life that are designed to prepare you for something specific. And for me, to feel a finger of cold ash on my forehead brings me back to the very beginning of myself, to the place where I am only ash of the Earth— a place where I cannot be my own Savior. A place touched by the fire of my sins.
Lent is a rare season, in the sense that it is a publicly observed occasion where intention and submission meet with warm embrace. It is an active submission to the gospel personally enacted. We are called to remember our sin-drenched heritage, while simultaneously remembering the inheritance of freedom alive in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. It is truly Christ pulling us out of the ashes, and into a glorious resurrection life like no other.
I don’t pretend this picture and analogy are reserved for the few weeks of the Lenten season. God has been enacting this same story of resurrection not only over the course of my life, but over the course of human history. He didn’t and doesn’t leave us as the dirt from whence we came— he continues His promise to breed life from death over and over again. Day after day, month after month, year after year. And I, along with every other believer, have experienced this redemption narrative personally, more so recently than ever. The story of Lent has permeated every moment of my past 3 years, as my story has embraced transitions that have created new life within me. Even more significantly, new life with a person I am covenanted to as we chase the Heart of God. It is in that covenant I realize the gospel more fully, as I become more aware of what marriage between man and woman has to teach us about the marriage between God and His people. My Cliff’s Notes so far?
Apart from who God is and what He has done for us, we are not worthy of the privilege and call of covenant. Apart from His presence and promise, we cannot breed life out of our own ashes. Every effort to do so will find us in the same place we began— in dust and in ash.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Lent and Daylight Savings happen during the same time of year. Days are longer and nights are shorter, almost as if to encourage each of us to do more with the light we have been given. We are gifted with the hope and light of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, a light that has the ability to breed life out of death. But that life can only be experienced in the face of dying to your own way— a voluntary death and submission to a throne you don’t sit on. An active submission to the gospel personally enacted. It is there, we rise. It is there, we regain our place in the Presence of The King, at the feet and will of The One who breeds life from death.
“There's a garden in the ashes
There is beauty in the mess
If we embrace our imperfections
I know love will do the rest.”
-Steffany Gretzinger, Sing My Way Back
We all know the Story of Eden to be the setting of mankind’s downfall— the place where we chose our own way over God’s way. That story will always be stained with a foundational sin of putting our own desires and interpretations over God’s, which, unfortunately, continues to haunt us in our day-to-day. But, just as the Steffany Gretzinger song describes, There is a Garden in the Ashes. Eden is not our End Game. When we find ourselves at our own end, in our own dust and ash, we also find the garden of God’s provision— Round 2 of Eden. Where, because of Jesus and what He has achieved on your behalf, you have the option to choose God’s way over your own. Get out of the Ashes. Get into the Resurrection.
“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” -John 14:12-14 (MSG)
We forget the bold claims of Jesus so easily, don’t we? We are the people he’s referring to— the same people He says will do even greater things than Him! BECAUSE of the things He did. The same people who start off as dust and ash end up carrying on Christ’s legacy of resurrection. His death breeds everlasting life, a life that abundantly waits at the end of ourselves. Life that is unlocked through an active submission to the gospel personally enacted.
Do not fear the ends at the expense of the beginnings. In every season of life, God has promised us more. There is strength in submitting to Him and power in letting go of your own grip for His.
Out of the Ashes,