ashes are the beginning of abundance
Occasionally I will hear a message that feels like God is grabbing my soul with both hands and shaking me awake. It’s usually because He has been trying to have the same conversation with me for awhile, but I’ve yet to really listen.
So when I stumbled upon this message by Ann Voskamp she gave four months ago during Moody Founder’s Week, God pulled back the curtains of my soul and helped me really hear Him. Ann Voskamp has been instrumental in my life personally, (I know a lot of people struggle with her style of speaking and writing) and I appreciate her humble sensitivity to the Word and Spirit. The truth she shared in her message was so soul-soothing for me, I have watched this no less than ten times.
You see, it’s been one of those seasons where God is correcting something deeply foundational in the way I view God Himself and my circumstances. It seems like everything in my life keeps pointing to this one ugly spot in my heart that is resisting or confusing Truth. And finally, finally, my stubborn and dull heart is looking up into His face and listening.
I wrote a few weeks ago about grumbling and grace, about murmuring and manna,and He’s brought me back to this place again — revealing my doubts about His goodness which creates a reluctance lay my life down on the altar and trust Him to turn those ashes into beauty.
And when Ann opened her message with an illustration of a great sequoia tree surviving a forest fire after forest fire, it’s bark thick with black ash as it grows two thousand years old, it hit me again that I should never be afraid of ashes — because God’s stories never end with ashes. They always end with abundance.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. (Psalm 65:11, ESV)
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11, ESV)
But I don’t often function like I believe that. I live with what she described as a mentality of scarcity — a quiet distrust that urges me to hoard and hide what I have from the fire of God’s love.
It saddens me to know that there are things I continue to love more than God. I love sleep. I love the absence of fussing and crying. I love new clothes and books and IKEA. I love dinner out. I love uninterrupted conversations. I love doing exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. And it’s not that loving these things are wrong — it’s only harmful when I elevate these desires over my desire for God, when I would rather have all these things instead of Him, when I would rather hoard or hide these things from God in case He makes me lay them on an altar.
The bottom line is this: I don’t believe God is enough. I don’t believe He will give me enough. I don’t believe He’s better than anything this life could offer me. And so I complain and grumble and get frustrated when things get in the way of my desires.
An altar is the last thing I want. Because that would mean fire, and consummation, and ashes.
Because nothing good ever comes from ashes, right?
I remember the story of God providing manna to the Israelites:
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.
And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.
Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. (Exodus 16:13-21, ESV)
This bread from heaven, it was enough for each day. And yet their hearts are still skeptical of God. They try to hoard it, but it rots and stinks. They don’t believe He will provide for them the next morning, but when they wake up the manna awaits.
Morning by morning, He gives enough.
Manna — The name is commonly taken as derived from “man,” an expression of surprise, “What is it?” but more probably it is derived from manan, meaning “to allot,” and hence denoting an “allotment” or a “gift.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
Manna is the overflowing witness to the goodness of God.
The mysteries of life, the “what is its,” they are gifts we can’t control or predict, but they are gifts from a generous God.
This burns up the lie of scarcity.
This manna, we don’t hoard it or hide it. We don’t have to believe that God won’t provide or that He won’t be enough. He will give us exactly what we need when we need it.
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything? (Romans 8:31-32)
Because the truth is — as Ann shared — we can always have as much of God as we want.
And I am learning slow: His presence is His greatest provision.
He is the only One who can teach us how to see everything in life as His abundance to us.
Even the hard stuff, even the wildernesses, even the ashes — He can transform them into gardens of abundance.
It comforts me to know that even the disciples suffered from this mentality of scarcity:
And they [Jesus and the disciples] went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves somethingto eat.”
But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”
And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”
And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. (Mark 6:32-44, ESV)
Out of what doesn’t seem like enough, God makes it enough.
And unless we believe that we serve a God of abundance — a God who is enough — we will always walk away starving and send others away hungry.
We will miss the miracle of seeing God provide because we don’t understand that God is always providing Himself.
God asks us,
How many loaves do you have? It is enough. I will turn it into abundance.
There are times my hands are empty. There are times my hands are full of pain. There are times my hands are full of ashes.
There are times my hands even struggle to open because I’m too afraid to give it all over to Him.
But when I open my hands to Jesus, when I stand back and look to heaven and say a blessing (calling it all a blessing), the ground breaks and ABUNDANCE springs forth. All who eat this bread are satisfied.
Who is a disciple who sees the desert spaces, the ash heaps, the barren lands, and sees places of abundance instead of scarcity? Even if all you have is seven meager loaves? Even if all you have is ashes? What you have in your hand, God always makes it enough.
When we believe in this and live this out, we believe the theology of enough. We don’t have to hoard or hide or fear. We believe that because God is good, we don’t have to hold anything back.
How can we live in the generosity of abundance yet live out the lie of scarcity?
We may say “there is none like Him,” and yet we suffer from the disease of scarcity. It makes us angry, bitter, unneighborly, controlled by fear. Never fear the nightmare moments that you imagine will freeze you. Unexpected blasts of cold can be what draws you near to the flame of His love for you.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We can relax and trust and be at peace.
We can care and give to others as we have be cared for by God.
The suffering of scarcity needs the good news that God is abundantly good and He is enough.
He is the Bread of Life.
We need not hoard up manna and make our lives rot. And only He can make the rot of our hoarding lives sing with the liturgy of abundance. — Ann Voskamp
The ashes from countless forest fires gave the great sequoia an incredibly rich fertilizer and burned away all it’s competition for sunlight. And the ash of a life offered to God will produce a rooted and fruitful faith that does not fear the fire.
You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. (Psalm 65:11)
This word used here, “abundance,” is “deshen” in the Hebrew. It means fatness or ashes.
Ashes produced from an altar.
Ashes are the beginning of abundance.
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)