Read Isaiah 61:1-11
If you are in a group allow a few moments of individual reading and thinking about what most strikes them from the passage. Then go around and each person in turn says (if they are able) what stands out most for them, from the passage.
This amazing passage speaks of God’s plans and purposes for his people; it is repeated by Jesus in part in Luke 5:14-30.
The nation of Israel returned to Jerusalem, which had been reduced to rubble and ashes. It was a time of deep loss and grief and into this situation of depression the words of the prophet promise many things which can be summed up in replacing ashes with beauty.
The passage overall
1 What are the main features of the restoration of Israel that are mentioned in this passage?
2 God’s intention is for the good of his people that they might have beauty, hope and joy to replace ashes, despair and sadness. What does this tell us about God?
3 What aspects of this passage have you known personally? Have you known release, comfort and a rebuilding of your life?
Beauty for ashes
4 In the time of Isaiah people would put ash on their heads as a sign of grief, loss and desperation. God promises that he will turn their ash to beauty. Can you think of examples in the Bible of God bringing beauty out of ashes?
5 What is the difference today between God’s beauty and the beauty that the advertisers present? How can we be God’s beautiful people? Think about character, acts, attitudes, homes, design and organisation.
6 What would a beautiful church community look like that has seen God transforming ashes to beauty?
Finding beauty for ashes
7 Many Christians face despair, helplessness, loss and grief. What hope might these verses offer in these circumstances? Read Psalm 73:16 - what does this suggest for facing tough times?
8 How can the church fulfil the prophecy of beauty for ashes? What activities or practices of the church community are about bringing beauty into people’s lives?
Beauty for ashes in your life
9 Reflect on Psalm 23:5 – what does this tell us about God’s care for us?
10 God wants to replace our hurts and pain with his healing and beauty, how can we co-operate with his Spirit that this might happen? What stops us letting God bring beauty for our ashes?
11 When we pray 'As in heaven' in the Lord’s prayer we are asking God to bring beauty to the broken and hurting people of this world and our community.
How can we pray more specifically for people in the light of Isaiah 61:3?
What can we as disciples of Jesus be doing to bring beauty instead of ashes? How can we avoid being only hearers of God’s word and not live for him?
Spend some time praying that God’s beauty might be seen in the brokenness of God’s world.
Pray for rulers and authorities as well as individuals and communities in need of God’s beauty.
Pray for each other that God’s beauty might be seen in us and through us bringing glory to God.
A final prayer
Lord for the beauty of the world you have created we give you our thanks. For the colour, texture, tones and sounds that surround us we acknowledge you are the Lord of all beauty and wonder. As you seek to bring your beauty to people’s lives we pray that we might be filled with your beautiful presence: love, patience, holiness, generosity, humility and faithfulness that others might see your beauty in us. We pray for those around us in particularly ugly and difficult places at this time and pray that we, by the power of your Spirit, might bring light and love, beauty and joy into their lives. To the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
We praise and thank you for the beauty of the world which you have made. We worship you for you have blessed us in the spiritual realms with every blessing in Christ. We pray that we may always realise that you are seeking to bring beauty into people’s lives – your beauty of love, holiness, generosity, kindness, faithfulness. May we know this beauty for ourselves and then be a channel of your presence taking your beauty to others. In the name of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen