In his book, “Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit,” Henri Nouwen wrote about the experience he had watching a sculptor chiseling away at a large block of stone. As he watched, Nouwen wondered whether the striking of the hammer against the chisel, and the chisel against the stone caused the rock to feel pain. But suddenly, he realized that emerging from the marble was the form of a beautiful dancer. In that moment, Nouwen understood that in the hands of God, everything is grace.
The gospel of Luke tells us that immediately after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan river, he “…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (4:1:2). Luke went on to write that afterward, again being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee, “…and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country” (4:14). When he came into the synagogue on that Sabbath day, Jesus unrolled the scroll of the book of Isaiah before the people, and read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
And Jesus said, “’Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:18-19, 21).
While Jesus was forty days fasting in the wilderness after his baptism, he was given his assignment by God the Father, through his Holy Spirit. No wonder the enemy chose that time to come against him and tempt him to abandon his mission!
But the prophecy of Isaiah did not stop there, and neither did Christ’s ministry. When we continue to read the words that God gave to the prophet in Isaiah 61, the next part of Jesus’ commission unfolds:
“…to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”
Jesus’ mission to the world is one of transformation, bringing us beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning, comfort for pain, and strength in his Holy Spirit for our weakness in times of trouble.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote of God’s promise to transform our hearts from cold stone to warm flesh, when he wrote, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26).
Like a potter working the clay, and the sculptor wielding hammer and chisel, God forms us and shapes us, making all things new. He transforms us from the inside out from spiritually cold, dead stone into his redeemed people, filled with the breath of his Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life.
If you are feeling that the mission God has planted in your heart is facing opposition from the enemy, or that the hammer and chisel of transformation are ringing a little too loudly in your ears, fear not, dear Friend! God is at work in you, right now, to bring forth the original purpose he designed specifically for you. Sometimes God’s handiwork feels like trials and testing. But remember, our mission is to allow ourselves to be transformed so that we may glorify his name – and then – give him all the praise as we become his hands and feet sent out into the world to speak his word with boldness and his truth with love. Isaiah saw this when he wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (52:7). Jesus demonstrated this to his disciples when he washed their feet at the Last Supper, before his crucifixion (See John 13).
As Henri Nouwen discovered, with God, everything is grace. As we climb the mountains set before us, our steps become beautiful as Jesus transforms our journey from the ashes of mourning to joy and beauty. Because he is with us, we have nothing to fear, and there is no need to rush.
On the road to Emmaus, Luke tells of two of Jesus’ disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem, heartbroken at the tragedy of Jesus’ death. Suddenly, a man appeared on the road, who went with them, revealing to them the mystery of the scriptures from Moses through the prophets. Once they realized that it was Jesus who had been walking with them all along, they proclaimed, “…’Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (24:32). While they walked along the road, they were being transformed by the presence of Jesus and the word of God. They didn’t even realize it, until the moment when they recognized who had been with them all along. The presence of Christ transformed their journey from mourning to joy and from ashes to beauty, while they were walking, until their broken hearts revived and burned with a fresh fire within them.
Beloved Friend, Jesus is doing the same with you. Stay on the straight and narrow road. Just keep moving forward and do not be in a hurry. The God of Transformation is at hand, and he will never leave you nor forsake you, whether he is walking with you on the mountain or in the valley.
Jesus assured his disciples, “… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). As he was with them, so Christ is with you.
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.