It has been roughly two-years since God began gnawing away at everything I knew and believed about mission, ministry, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has been roughly six-months since the culmination of my sin, the will of God, and the nature of a fallen world altered the direction my life was heading. Not surprisingly, these dramatic life events are typically what God uses to shape and grow those who commit to following Him regardless of circumstance.
For it is through the refiners fire that the dross falls and the precious material is exalted.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
In Peter’s case, the precious material that is tested by the furnace of trials is the intangible nature of hope, love, and joy wrapped up in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
The promised result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? “Eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)
And the refiner’s fire – the trials that we face due to our sin and the sin of others – is primarily for the purpose of increasing our hope of, love for, and joy in 1) the “guarantee” of our future salvation, 2) Jesus’ promise to “continue the good work He began in us” so that we might “have the same mind” values, and vision He had, and 3) perpetual grace, mercy, and love that has made us inseparable from the Father in spite of our continual failure to achieve perfection. (Ephesians 1:13-14;Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:5ff; Romans 8:38-39)
Tim Keller, in a soul-shattering article titled All of Life is Repentance, says,
“In the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit that we are flawed, because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own, so it is not as traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses… This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more we see our own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. On the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and our acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of our sin. The sin underlying all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” (emphases mine)
The refiner’s fire can never do to us what the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, wants to do in us.
And it is this power, this surreal – and yes, it is often times very surreal – love, that compels every fiber of our being to submit to Him when we make any attempt to follow Him. Our submission to Him requires that we fall to our knees and confess our unworthiness to even be in His presence. The truth of that confession is paradoxically contrasted by the certainty that He will lift us up, and bear the weight of our guilt and unworthiness for us.
“They took Jesus and He went out, bearing the cross… and they crucified Him… He was pierced through for our sin, crushed for our rebellion” (John 19:17-18; Isaiah 53:5a, 5b)
The bearing of the cross is illustrative of Jesus bearing the weight of our unworthiness. Because He bore that weight, we no longer have to avoid coming before Him in complete honesty, ready to be molded back into the “masterpiece” He created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)
I have spent more time trying to avoid the refiner’s fire than trying to avoid anything else in my life. The real irony is that avoiding the refiner’s fire simply allows for more impurities to cling to the surface of something that is otherwise valuable.
And when it comes to following Jesus, revealing the true worth and value of His children is far more important to Him than our comfort and satisfaction dwelling in grime and excrement.
While many attempt to avoid it, there really is no following Jesus without going through the refiner’s fire. Avoiding the fire is equivalent to avoiding the all-loving, all-powerful, all-about-you-being-perfected, God of the Bible. There is no one without the other.
But you must know it will be painful.
You will fail.
You will run.
You will hurt other people.
You will be hurt by other people.
The method that Jesus has chosen to employ to ensure that we become more and more like Him is the direct result of our failures, of our running away, of our hurting other people.
When you hurt others and experience the consequences of those actions, it is painful. When you fail, even though countless hours of time and effort have been put into succeeding and avoiding that failure, it is painful. When you are hurt by others – due to their sin or the consequences of your own – it is painful.
DO NOT let any believer in Christ tell you anything contrary to this: the refiner’s fire is painful.
And let no one contradict this: the Refiner loves you more than you know, and no matter how much pain the fire brings, He bore the most painful parts on His shoulders so that you would not have to.
Without that, the refiner’s fire simply becomes a nuisance without a purpose that is cast off by numbing the pain by any means necessary. The Refiner is the most important part of the process.
He understands the pain. So tell Him about it. He knows what is best for you. So trust Him to bring you through it. And He loves you. He loves you.
Here’s the irony in my story. I recently found a prayer journal dated February, 2014.
What did it say?
“God, I feel like my life has been smooth sailing for far too long. I’m scared to say this, but I’m ready.
Lord, break me.”