“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
to BESTOW ON THEM A CROWN OF BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES,
the oil of joy instead of mourning
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
The first time I read the scripture above I was a brand new Christian with an old kind of grungy (to put it mildly) former life. I had no idea how to reconcile the two, and to tell you the truth not a terribly strong desire to do so. I thought I could just be the same me, with the same bad habits, the same fears, the same identity lies that I always seem to gravitate towards.
I think the day 20 years ago that I raised my fist at God and told him he he could have my (insert expletive deletive here) life, not exactly the precious little prayer I learned in Sunday School, I expected him to quickly erase the bad stuff and fill the real estate it took up with flowers and love and peace. I didn’t expect to grapple with the same old stuff that always worked to mess me up. I wanted immediate signs and wonders and miracles and for Christians to behave as they should, like Jesus did.
Well, that was a pipe dream. I kept jumping right back into the same mire, only difference being that now he was quick to remind me it was slime and to provide a way out. Consequences, however, remained the same, because even though we all hate the big old SIN word, sin is sin because it isn’t good for us and it does carry repercussion.
God didn’t just take all the things we would encounter and put all of the good ones in the FORBIDDEN column and all of the boring ones in the ALLOWED column. He knows and knew us better than we know ourselves and knows where we’ve been and what has worked for us and what has damn well almost destroyed us. He loves us. He is continually trying to save us from our own mistakes, especially those we have a propensity to repeat.
Well, where is this going, you may ask? Of course, it’s heading to a lava flow, you knew that right? I’ve just returned from visiting my oldest child and his lovely new wife in Kona, HI on the Big Island. I’m probably going to get this wrong because I don’t usually check my facts and tend to exaggerate to enhance a story. I think the deal is there are six volcanoes on the Big Island and four of them are currently active. As we were leaving the airport and heading into town there were lava flows on top of lava flows. Black charcoal colored sharp looking angry thick molten rock that had hardened and just covered the landscape. For miles. All I could think of was wow, this looks like the moon or a planet that had never seen life. Then the entire thing rapidly changed to the most beautiful lush, flowered, gorgeous landscape that I had ever encountered. And the funny thing was, the earth was still made up of lava. Flowers sprung from blackest rock, the ocean slammed up against seawalls made from lava rock and sand mortar. It was drop dead gorgeous.
I hear God speak to my soul regularly. He reminded me that where I see myself as a black barren lava field, he knows the flowers and waters that he has planned to spring from my former dark places. That not one ugly place will remain that hasn’t been redeemed. That I hold on to things that he has long forgotten. That he has ALREADY bestown on me a crown of beauty instead of ashes.
So, today, as I’m remembering this for my own life, I am praying that even one of you who is feeling hopeless or dirty or neglected or overlooked will know that’s not how God sees you. He sees your potential and even right now, right this very moment, he is working to anoint you with the oil of joy. He loves you. He’s not disappointed in you. He’s not in a bad mood. When he thinks of you he is like a good good father admiring his newborn child. Look back into his eyes, dear child. All you will see is love.