Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
Suffering means many things. It can mean bad and terrible things – the loss of a child, financial ruin, divorce, major injury or illness. It can mean challenging things – a difficult marriage, a challenging work relationship, surgeries and health concerns, house fires. It can also mean the irritating things that happen on a regular basis in our lives, that cause us stress and anxiety.
As I continue in my journey with Christ, I have come to understand suffering in a new light. I understand that NO suffering is fun. We would never CHOOSE it. However, it has an even greater purpose perhaps than comfort in our lives. Certainly, it is more useful than “happiness”. Paul describes the challenges in this life as “light and momentary troubles”:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Now, I’ve never been beaten or jailed, stoned and left for dead like Paul has. So what perspective does Paul have that I don’t? His eyes are fixed on eternity – on what is unseen, the Living Christ. Everything else fades when our gaze is steadfastly on Him. This is what it means to abide in Christ, to be “in” the world, but not “of” it.
Things are unfair in this world, absolutely. Life hurts. Grief, sadness, anger, frustration is OK. But we can’t lose sight of what TRULY matters. The more we focus on “me”, the more we drown in ourselves (I’ve found this to be the case with anxiety and depression as well. The more I look at me, the less I look at Him. The less I look at Him, the more life overwhelms me.).
Once we are saved, that’s not the end of it. Salvation is a lifelong process that isn’t complete until the day we meet with Jesus face to face. God allows challenges in our lives to make us holy. EACH and EVERY frustration – from teeny to huge – is an OPPORTUNITY to either grow towards or away from Christ. The quicker we can identify these and yield to the Holy Spirit’s work of refining us, the faster we progress in holiness. I also find that the more I yield to this process (the less I stubbornly complain and fight it), the less God has to send my way. Because He will, you know. His goal is your holiness, not your happiness.
While I already understood that God allows challenges in our lives to develop our character and to work on our hearts (I don’t know about you, but if everything is going really well for me, I can quickly start to feel pretty self-sufficient…), this excerpt on being refined helped me to understand this much more clearly:
The Refiner and His Fire
(excerpt from amazon.com – As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur)
COME, LET ME TAKE YOU BACK to a Judean village in ancient days. Inside a small, walled courtyard under a blue and blazing sky, there stands a refiner of metals. In his hands, gnarled with age, he is rolling and fingering a lump of ore. He watches the sun play on the streaks and veins of lead and other minerals running through this bit of rock chiseled from the bowels of the earth.
His experienced eye knows that, intermingled within this ore, there is silver.
He lays the ore on his worktable then builds his fire with care and the wisdom of years. Soon the flames are rising in the pit situated against the courtyard’s stone wall.
At the worktable he picks up his hammer and begins crushing the lump into smaller pieces.
He pauses occasionally to stare at the fire, as if in study. From time to time he places more fuel upon the already-blazing coals and works his bellows until the flames are in a frenzy.
When the fire is right, he gathers the hammered bits of ore from the place of their crushing and lays them in a small, sturdy container of tempered pottery—his crucible.
He places the crucible in the fire and sits down beside it. A long day is before him, and this is where he will stay for as long as the metal is subject to the flames. Silver is too precious to be forsaken in the furnace, too valuable to be ruined through inattention.
Carefully he watches the fire. It must be maintained at exactly the right temperature for the right duration of time to accomplish its purpose. Slowly the ore softens. The silver, with its greater density and lower melting point, liquefies first, hissing and bubbling as oxygen is released. The still-solid impurities rise to the top of the molten metal. This is the dross, and the refiner skims it off.
Now he adds bits of charcoal inside the crucible. He knows this will enhance the sheen of the silver. The carbon of the charcoal will keep the refined metal from reabsorbing oxygen from the air, which would only dull its finish.
He tends the fire, adds more fuel, and applies more air from the bellows. Amid the relentless heat surrounding the crucible, more dull impurities, newly revealed, rise to the surface of the mixture.
Again the refiner carefully skims away the murky, smudgy metal floating at the top of the crucible. Gazing down upon the molten surface, the refiner sees at best but a dim reflection of himself.
The refiner works and watches and waits. The heat and its effect continue. More impurities rise to the surface, and again he skims them off.
He never leaves the crucible unattended, never steps away from the fire he has formed to do its work. The finished product he cherishes demands this process. Only his guided and guarded refinement will yield the promised and precious metal.
And he is not yet satisfied.
He lets the fire cool. Eventually he sets the crucible aside.
Then once again he builds up the fire, and the process begins all over. This time the skilled refiner makes the fire hotter. Within the crucible, new impurities are released, brought to the surface, exposed for what they are, then skimmed off.
Finally his leathery face breaks into a smile, for now as he gazes into the liquid silver his reflection is apparent—not yet sharp, but more distinct than before.
More hours pass as he perseveres in his anxious and delicate work. And then . . . once more he bends over the crucible, and this time he catches his breath. There it is! In the silver he sees what he has waited for so patiently: a clear image of himself, distinct and sharp.
Delight banishes his frown. His task is done. The impurities are gone.
The silver is refined.
He has his treasure.
He has “choice” silver, the most lustrous of all metals, beautiful and highly valued. It’s as pale and shining as the wings of a dove, as brilliant and splendid as the moon, worthy to become coin or trumpet or ornament, worthy to grace the king’s table or to reflect sunlight in a crown upon his head. The refiner has taken what was impure and made it pure.
He has taken what was dull and made it beautiful.
Potential value has become actual value.
And the fire—the guarded, guided, relentless fire—made the difference.
The fire allowed ordinary ore from the earth to be transformed into treasure.
All under the refiner’s watchful care, for all the while he never left it unattended.
You and I are more than observers in this picture, beloved. This image of refinement is something God touches on again and again in His Word. He is the true Refiner. We are His silver.
And the fire is the fire of His making, for through His fire our Refiner will perfect an awesome work, a divine work. He will take what is impure and make it pure. He will take what is dull and make it beautiful. He’ll take what is of potential value and reveal its actual value. He will transform us into treasure.
He’ll refine us in the crucible so that He can see Himself in the silver—in you and me. And so the world, as well as the principalities and powers and hosts of Satan, can behold the triumph of the Redeemer.
The fiery flames—the array of disappointing situations in our lives, from minor irritants to major tragedies—will make the difference. Different flames, different fires will come and go. In the pressure of their heat we’ll see the impurities in our lives being released and rising to the top. Then He’ll skim them off, purifying us, refining us.
He’ll make the fire a little hotter, causing new impurities to rise and be released, exposed for what they are. These, too, He’ll lift away. Early in our Christian lives He may see only a very dim image of Himself as He looks into our crucible. But as time goes on, His image becomes clearer, more lustrous, more beautiful.
And all the while, He never leaves or forsakes His treasure.
Our Refiner never leaves the crucible, never steps away from the fire. He is always there to make sure every flame that reaches us is exactly the right temperature—not too hot!—to accomplish its work in our lives. He knows the precise temperature to maintain so we don’t face more than we can bear. He tests and proves our faith, not to discredit us, but to show us how far we’ve come. He perfects our perseverance.
Years ago I filed away a copy of a poem called “The Refiner’s Fire.” Now is the time to share it with you. Instead of silver, the metal here is gold, as in 1 Peter 1:7—“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.” But the process—and the Refiner’s attitude—is just as we have seen, as the last two stanzas of this poem testify:
Can we think it pleases His loving heart
To cause us a moment’s pain?
Ah, no, but He sees through the present cross
The bliss of eternal gain.
So He waited there with a watchful eye
With a love that is strong and sure,
And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat
Than was needed to make it pure.
The Refiner’s fire is a picture of great worth and importance to God, one He refers to often in His Word. Let me share a few of these verses with you as we begin our study of how to handle the disappointments and difficulties God uses to refine us.
“The refining pot is for silver . . . ,” He says, “but the LORD tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3).
“The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and a man is tested by the praise accorded him” (Proverbs 27:21). Even the praise we receive can be a refining and testing fire.
“The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver” (Proverbs 10:20). He even uses this image as a picture of His own Word: The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). Seven is the number of completion, perfection—God’s Word is perfect and complete. And you will be too as you learn to respond to the fires in a way pleasing to God.
The Lord promises to bring His people “through the fire,” and to “refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, “The LORD is my God’ ” (Zechariah 13:9).
We can all tell the Lord what the psalmist acknowledged, “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined” (Psalm 66:10).
Yet unfortunately, there are times when God’s refinement fires are of no avail.
Why? Because you and I can resist and ruin God’s refining process. Jeremiah 6:29-30 describes this very situation as God speaks of His people Israel:
The bellows blow fiercely,
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
but the wicked are not separated.
They call them rejected silver,
because the LORD has rejected them.
The fire burns and burns. But the dross—the wickedness, the impurities—is not allowed to be released and removed. Instead it’s held on to, stubbornly clung to, no matter how hot the Refiner’s fire. So the silver becomes rejected silver or, as the King James Version puts it, “reprobate silver.”
Therefore the Refiner must reject it. It is impure and unusable and unattractive. God will send the fire several times and with increasing heat to get rid of those impurities, those un-Christlike things in your life and mine, beloved.
But if we insist on hanging on to them, then God must set us aside. He’ll call us reprobate silver—rejected for His use.”
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. Hebrews 10:3-10