The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3 NKJV).We weep and wonder how such a devastating event can glorify God.
Oh, what a loss! How our hearts hurt as we gathered in small groups in the freezing cold of Sunday night to stare helplessly at the orangey-red glow of flames and the giant plume of smoke-filled steam erupting skyward as fire hoses valiantly fought their losing battle with the devouring foe ransacking the House we love. We wept and yet were forced to fathom the unfathomable as we contemplated what could have been if God had not miraculously intervened with an unexpected snowfall leading to the cancellation of the evening service. How catastrophic would have been the loss to two congregations if explosion and fire had ripped through the middle of the packed House of Sunday night worship! BUT GOD!
(The words of Charles Spurgeon, here selected and paraphrased from a early 20th century sermon entitled "Beauty for Ashes," can encourage us as we think about God's plans for this temporarily displaced body of believers. The Scripture is from the great Messianic passage of Isaiah 61 from which Christ read in Luke 4 to identify Himself as the One prophesied in it. It speaks of the One Who will bring comfort to God's people.)
Note that there is comfort appointed for you, and also given to you ... How cheering is the thought that as our griefs are appointed, so also are our consolations ... and if God appoints me a portion, who can deprive me of it? ... My prayer is that every holy mourner may have a time of sweet rejoicing while sitting at the Master's feet in a waiting posture. ... Christ will exchange the grim tiara of ashes for a glorious diadem of beauty.
[The Hebrew for ashes is epher; the Hebrew for beauty is pheer. Commentator Matthew Henry observes, "He will turn their sorrow into joy as quickly and easily as you can transpose a letter; for He speaks, and it is done."]
He will in addition to beauty, give the oil of joy — the unction of the Holy Spirit with His gifts and fruit.
An unction, such as royalty has never received, sheds its costly moisture over all the redeemed when the Spirit of the Lord rests upon them ... Then it is added that the Lord will give "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." ... What a dress is this! ... Jesus Christ will cover you, even at this hour, with the garment of praise; so grateful shall you be for sins forgiven, for infirmity overcome, for watchfulness bestowed, for the church revived, for sinners saved ... Wherever you are it shall be displayed to others, and they shall see and [know] that God has done great things for you whereof you are glad.
The result of this is a recognizable identity as oaks of righteousness. "There are many saints who are trees of righteousness, but nobody calls them so." This appointed comfort and giving of beauty, oil and praise are so that these saints will be recognized and called trees of righteousness. "They shall see grace in you ... it shall be so distinct in the happiness of your life that they shall be compelled to see it ... an attractive advertisement of the gospel."
People who know what has happened, who know the circumstances of this season and yet see that your spirit doth rejoice in God your Savior in deep distress, when you can sing in the fires of affliction, when your shout of triumph grows louder as the conflicts wax more and more severe — then all who see shall confess that you are trees of righteousness and the planting of the Lord, for you could not appear like that if anyone else had done the planting. No tree planted by a mere man or woman can withstand such accidents or attacks of powers and principalities. God's planting alone will stand in the face of them.
"That He might be glorified." We weep and wonder how such a devastating event can glorify God. Ultimately, the event does not glorify Him. We do — as we still trust and praise Him through the sadness and grief, as we tell Him honestly how we feel and allow His Spirit to minister comfort to us. The strong word that came at the 8:00 service on Sunday morning exhorted us that our victory will come as we "stay in the boat." Soon, God's purpose will be made clear. Until then, we can comfort each other with these words — "My name is Victory!" To God be the Glory!!