Crossways Concepts

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Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Biblical Fashion Advice

The Lord has burdened me with the fact that our world is full of self-proclaimed, church-attending “Christians”, but so few real servants of God.  It was in this frame of mind, that the Lord selected an important scripture for me.

As He does sometimes, a person can be just reading along through the Bible, when suddenly the Lord grabs onto a verse or concept and highlights it in blazing, flashing neon in the person's mind.  I was listening to the Bible in my car.  God pointed His spotlight on a verse as it went by and I had to turn off the CD and find that verse in my Bible as soon as I could.  Then, that verse continued to be the subject of a lot of thought, prayer and meditation over the following days.

Then, a couple of days later, when a good friend was in dire need of God's guidance, I sent him the verse.  When he read:

So I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petitions, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

He responded back by asking, “What is the modern equivalent of sackcloth and ashes?”

Think how odd a person would look if they dressed in rough burlap and had smelly, dirty looking ashes on their head and face.  Burlap just isn't the cool fabric of 2012.

However, sackcloth wasn't the cool fabric of 600 B.C. either.  All through time, nobody has worn sackcloth by choice.  It is rough feeling, it makes uncomfortable clothing and it is unattractive.  Nobody is going to enjoy wearing sackcloth and nobody is going to impress others with this clothing of slaves.

In scripture, the concept of wearing sackcloth is associated with humbling ourselves before God.  Humbling ourselves is one of those slippery concepts that we all know it is good, but we aren't exactly sure what it means.  As I have been trying to get a handle on what it means to be humble before God, I finally found a good parallel within my own parenting experiences.

Perhaps you have known the joy of parenting a child that is eager to please.  This would be a child that wants nothing more than to do what the parent wants.  The child seeks to do what he believe the parents would want them to do, the child avoids those activities that he thinks the parent would not want them to do and he listens closely to the parent's words in order to be able to obey.  This child represents the Christian that is humble before God.

Alternatively, you may have had the experience with a child, usually a teen, that has an over-inflated view of their role in the parent-child relationship.  This child is more interested in satisfying self and peers than in pleasing the parents.  This child does not listen.  This child does not obey.  This child does not submit themselves to the parent's authority.  This represents the opposite of the Christian that is humble before God.

These are extreme positions.  Sadly, very few of us are as humble before God as the obedient child, but also, very few of us are as defiant as the disobedient teen example.

As we visualize ourselves wearing sackcloth and ashes, our minds pose objections that begin to sound a lot like the teenager example.  We might think something like, “I'm going to do what I want to do, and it does not include looking like that.  What if my friends saw me?”

For me, all I have to do is to think seriously about wearing sackcloth and ashes in order to indict myself of failing to be humble before God.  Face it, being seen in burlap with ashes on your head would be terrible embarrassing.  But then, who are we trying to please?  Jesus said, “But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!'” (Mark 8:33 )  OUCH!

All through scripture, sackcloth and ashes were the fashion of choice when circumstances required complete submission to God.  The book of Jonah includes a prime example.  The people of Nineveh where full of sin.  The prophet, Jonah, comes on the scene and through powerful speech, that must have been full of God's power, the 120,000 people of the city were convinced that unless they humbled themselves before God, then their city would be destroyed by God.  Every person in this great city fell down before God in repentance, wearing sackcloth and ashes.  God saw their humility and did not destroy the city.

These people were seeking to save themselves and their city.  The stakes were too high to consider such things as the relative comfort of wearing the sackcloth or how they will be viewed by others.  For the people of Nineveh, there was nothing more important than being repentantly humble before God.

While it is easy to say, “God is the most important thing,” these people of Nineveh were able to go beyond mere words by putting on the sackcloth and ashes.  The action of donning the sackcloth and ashes was physically easy, but it was still tough because the action stated, “God is more important than my wants or what people think of me.”  Acting out that statement always requires stepping out of one's comfort zone on pure faith.

Nobody likes moving outside their comfort zone, it is, by definition, uncomfortable.  I am confident that in Biblical times there were people that laughed at the many individuals that chose to wear sackcloth and ashes, but at the same time, God always seemed to respond to this faith exercise.

So, is the conclusion of this that we should go to Walmart to buy burlap, then dig around the bottom of the hibachi for ashes? You absolutely should – if you feel that God is leading you to do so.  Our obedience to God is crucial.  What He asks us to do should be exactly what we must do, even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it involves wearing sackcloth and ashes.

If our obedience to God is conditional, “I'll do whatever you want me to do, as long as it is something I want to do”, then we are not being obedient.  We need to be willing to do whatever we must do to please Him.  Many of the things He might ask us to do (or to surrender) will challenge our self-interest, our self-esteem, our pride or life-style.  Choosing whether to be obedient to God all comes down to determining who is really Lord over our life: is it us or is it him?

My novel, Burst Into Flames: A Parable is now available as a free eBook or available in print. Go to for more information.

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