In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been around for a few weeks. I’d like to say that I’ve been on a deep, spiritual journey, alone with God at a retreat in the mountains, or in a cave fasting for purity of heart, but…well, that would be blatantly false… particularly those last two. I especially don’t do caves; that total dark thing freaks me out completely.
I have been doing more than my fair share of navel-gazing and questioning God about His purposes for my life. (I wonder sometimes if He doesn’t want to say to me: REALLY?? Haven’t you moved on from that topic YET?!?!) However, each stage of life is so different, right? Also, God’s patience with me is infinite; believe me, I’ve tested it to the max.
About a month ago, during a time of confusion concerning a direction I needed to take, I was having a conversation with my Father. Well, to be perfectly honest, I was feeling sorry for myself and it was more like whining and complaining to God than having a conversation with Him. After several moments of silence, the words “refiner’s fire” became clear in my mind. Immediately after, I remembered words from a song that we sang in the ’90’s or early 2000’s by the same name, so I went on a search for it. Interestingly, I found only 2 songs related to refiner’s fire; I guess it isn’t a popular, upbeat subject for praise and worship, (one by Vinyard music, the other by Hillsongs). I had to dig deeper to find the song which had the exact words I recalled, (sung by Steve Green, copyrighted in 1989). While they all speak of purifying us, which is never a fun time, I find the words of Green’s song gripping.
The Refiner’s Fire
Verse: There burns a fire with sacred heat
White hot with holy flame
And all who dare pass through its blaze
Will not emerge the same.
Some as bronze, and some as silver
Some as gold, then with great skill
All are hammered by their sufferings
On the anvil of His will.
Chorus: The Refiner’s fire
Has now become my soul’s desire
Purged and cleansed and purified
That the Lord be glorified.
He is consuming my soul;
Refining me, making me whole;
No matter what I may lose I choose the Refiner’s fire.
Verse: I’m learning now to trust His touch,
To crave the fire’s embrace,
For though my past with sin was etched
His mercies did erase.
Each time His purging cleanses deeper I’m not sure that I’ll survive,
Yet the strength in growing weaker
Keeps my hungry soul alive.
The chorus is what had come to my mind…”The refiner’s fire, has now become my soul’s desire, that the Lord be glorified…”
You want to know something? In February, the Spirit of God began convicting me of other gods and idols in my heart, so I asked Him to reveal them to me and to grant me repentance. Guess what? He has been busy doing just that! I guess in the back of my pea brain I thought it would be a short and sweet list, a little hand smack, and then moving on to better things.
Nah. In His tender mercy, it has been the full smack-down. God isn’t into the sloppy kind of housecleaning. When I invite Him in to clean house, He doesn’t do the spit-shine version.
John Piper said on his website, Desiring God:
We are shot through with the impurity of rebellion and unbelief, and we fall short of God’s glory again and again. You can prove this to yourself in many ways. For example, you can notice how readily your heart inclines to those things that will show your strengths to other people, and how resistant your heart is to communion with God in solitude. So, we are impure by nature and by practice. But God will have no alloys in heaven…And therefore, He must be a refiner’s fire.
Lest we go down an erroneous path of thinking God is being a tad harsh, take a look at just one instance of the stubbornness of God’s people:
v.8-10 Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you! Oh Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I AM the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
Sounds clear-cut, compassionate; certainly seems easy enough. But…apparently not.
V.11-12 But my people would not heed my voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.
Many times, perhaps most, I believe my ‘refiner’s fire’ comes as a result of my own sin, as Psalm 81 says, and Piper wrote about. We are shown repeatedly in Scripture that the nature of God is loving and merciful, despite times when we can’t immediately see it. Look at God’s response to Israel in verses 13-16! Rather than impatience or anger, as I may have felt as a parent, He sounds almost wistful – as though He is heartbroken that He CAN’T protect them like He wants to and could have.
Oh, that my people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their adversaries…He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied them. (NKJV)
This doesn’t sound like a Father Who is waiting with glee to punish me and pass me through the fire. It sounds like a Father who is deeply saddened by the actions of a rebellious child. Maybe you have felt that, too. Is God less of a loving parent than you or me?
There are other times, however, when life’s missiles hit me and threaten to destroy me, missiles from without which are completely out of my control. Examples could include cancer, a parent with dementia, a child who has a terminal illness, an adult child with an addiction; the unexpected death of a spouse. The list is infinite; the pain seemingly unbearable.
No, we will not emerge the same on the other side of these purging situations. And, unlike Green’s song, I’m not sure any of us ever “crave the fire’s embrace,” again, but if we yield to the loving hand of God in the midst of it, He takes the ugly, distorted, perverted, out-of-order events that this world and our enemy throws at us and He uses even them for our good and His glory. The Father has an intense, persistent desire to be gracious to us and to have compassion on us. Don’t believe me? Scripture confirms it repeatedly, but this verse comes to mind immediately.
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all they that wait for Him! Isaiah 30:18 (NIV) (verses 19-21 are pretty awesome, too!)
God hasn’t left you alone in the fire; He would never do that. As with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, He remains with you as the flames dance around your legs and lick at your clothes.
You will come forth as gold.