I spend a lot of time planning and wondering—freaking out and wishing I was more in control because I think my life would be really, really great if I always got the final say. (Spoiler alert—it would not because I’ve had the final say a couple times, and it always goes terribly when I get to end a situation the way I envisioned.) It is very easy to believe things would be going quite well if everything went how we imagined it should. I have realized, in all my dreaming and wishing, that often the things I come up with and wish I could be living through are not the refining process that I need to walk through. There would be no growth in my own plans, only morphing of the same values and misunderstandings—a continual building of blindness that is constantly reinforced by the fact that I get to have all the control, which means little to no input or compromise. Left to our own devices, we are all an absolute mess. The exceptional life is not one filled with self-centered decision making that leads to fabulous pictures and stories—the exceptional life is built in the dirt, steeped deeply in Grace, and forged in fire that is quite near destructive—the exceptional life is a holy life moving toward the sanctified.
All the burying, burning discomfort, and distress that comes from a life rooted in the Holy is a testament to the manner in which God is consistently bringing us into further sanctification.
The challenge of sanctification presents itself in that we do not have to continue with it. At any moment, we could turn inward drop our eyes and say no more—but there will never be long lasting fulfillment in a life that has known so great a Goodness before turning around and running after lesser things. And as much as we could just drop it all, say no more, it’s too hard, and abandon the only One Who can Truly Fulfill, you also reach a point, when everything is overwhelming and you don’t know if another step of refinement, unwrapping, and reshaping can be handled, and you feel exactly as Peter did in John: “So Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (6:67-68) We know the faithfulness and unequivocal Realness of this Really Real. Everything else is simply a vain imitation of the True Life we are called to pursue. Where else would we go—we have seen the Faithfulness of God and shall hold fast to confidence in His Goodness, even as the wilderness surrounds us.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego comes to mind relative to the conversation of refining fire. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) There is not only a confidence in the Power of God but a surrender to the Eternal Picture He can see and we cannot. The willingness to literally die by fire was not rooted in a place of lacking power but in one that shows an ultimate amount of authority backing the one willing to die. A Confidence and a Will so much Greater than that of the three men—this is the God we serve. He did rescue them from the fire—but if He had not, the Goodness, Power, and Love of God would be no different. The refinement and death to certain things that comes with fire is not by some sadistic desire on the part of God but a wholistic element of the sanctification process. There is no healing, growth, or forward movement without death also being a necessity to what is calling us in reverse.
I love to look at this idea of growth and refinement by fire using the lens of slash and burn farming. Agricultural burning is when whole fields/areas are lit in a *controlled* manner to clear them; the burning of the ground and certain small areas of wild trees, sagebrush, etc., provide a nutrient base for when it is time to plant and harvest again. The burning and dying actually lays a foundation for the growth that would never have been possible without the fire. Fire is necessary because it refines, molds, melts, kills, and rebuilds. We are in relationship with God and one another to walk through incredible things—difficult, but incredible. God is always working for the Good of those who Love Him and are called according to His purpose. So where there is fire, there is not only cutting away—new life is riding in so closely on the tail of what seems to be sure destruction.
Have you ever said you don’t know how you’ll make it? When emotional pain wreaks havoc on your body or physical pain forces shaking and unmitigated concentration on itself? But now you’re here? You didn’t die in the trial and you now know so much more about the Strength of God in you than you ever could have imagined.
The fire always seems final, but it never is.
“We shall draw near to God, not by trying to avoid sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as they way in which they should break, so be it.” (C.S. Lewis)