How do you get this oven clean, I wondered? I’d been scrubbing and scrubbing and it just wasn’t getting clean. As I was debating about giving up or heading to the store to look for a different cleaning product, my husband looked at the oven and asked, “what’s this self-cleaning option?” I hadn’t even noticed that option before, but it sure sounded great in that moment. I switched it on and then watched in amazement and the oven heated itself to its hottest temperatures and burned the food and grime right off. All that remained were some ashes in the bottom for me to simply wipe away.
God installed us with a similar feature. OK, so maybe not so much self-cleaning, but God-cleaning. I doubt any of us would willingly submit to the cleansing fire and ask to have the heat turned up so high that our impurities are burned off, yet that is one of the ways God the Refiner purifies us. As we walk through the trials of life, He’ll often use those times to refine us.
“For he will be like a refiner’s fire or launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:2-3)
How The Refining Fire Purifies
Sometimes the thing that holds us back – sin, doubt, past experience, uncertainty, self-focus, etc. – clings too tightly to scrub off through prayer or spiritual practice. Often we don’t notice or want to admit we are in need of further cleansing. It’s not until we’re in the fire of yet another of life’s trials that we see God working on an area of our life. Maybe you’re facing medical challenges for yourself or a loved one. God may use that to work on your trust or your patience and compassion. Or, maybe you’re in a difficult situation at work. Is God using that challenge to reset your priorities and focus?
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)
In the ancient days, gold and silver were refined by first crushing the large rocks of ore into small pieces, about the size of lentils. This breaking up revealed the hidden treasures of precious metals. The refiner then placed the bits of metal into a crucible and placed it over the fire. This began to burn away other lesser metals and debris. As the heat increased and the metals melted, the impurities would rise to the surface so the refiner could skim them off. The refiner would continue to heat the crucible to hotter and hotter temperatures, as some of the impurities would only burn off at the higher temperatures. As the impurities were removed, the refiner would watch closely to make sure the silver or gold didn’t burn away. He’d watch for the molten metal to become shiny and reflective, until he could see his own reflection. The purest and most valuable gold and silver were refined to the hottest temperatures to remove all the impurities.
Have you been put through the refining fire? Have you felt God breaking up the large rocks of sin and doubt in your heart? Breaking past all the coverings you’ve accumulated in this world and showing you the precious treasures hidden beneath? Has He heated the fires around you to ever hotter temperatures to cleanse your character and burn away the impurities?
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
The Refining Fire Is Hot, But Controlled By The Refiner
We will go through fires in our lives and they can feel hot, consuming, and at times out of control. Remember that God is the refiner and is watching the process carefully to make sure we aren’t consumed by the fire. He’s watching for His image to begin to reflect from us and then he’ll remove us from the fire. Isn’t that a comforting thought, even when the fire is raging?
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)
3 Ways to Sustain Through the Refiner’s Fire
1) Submit to the process
Often we don’t notice we’re being refined through the fire we’re in until we look back in hindsight. Yet, what if we could be aware in the moment that God’s there in the fire with us, walking by our side and keeping us safe from the flames, and at work to improve us? What if in our trials, we started to ask what work God might be doing through it, and submit to that process?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
2) Trust God, the Refiner
The fires of life are often where we either forge our faith more firmly, or we drift away from God. Trials tend to bring us to a decision point. Will we trust God in this moment come what may? Or, will we walk away in disbelief? Will you turn your eyes to God and trust that He’s in the fire with you and will lead you through it to the other side?
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
3) Lean Into Prayer More Fervently
Where do you turn when life gets tough? Do you start Googling for answers? Post on Facebook to ask advice? Do you start putting together your own solutions? Or, do you turn first to God in prayer? This is a time to lean most fervently into prayer and cling to God’s promises. Ask others to pray, but also commit yourself to prayer and keep your eyes turned to God. Even when you don’t know what to pray or can’t form the words, stay close to God and allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for you.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)
I don’t choose to enter the “self-cleaning” cycle with God. The fires are hot and difficult and not a path I’d choose to walk. Yet, in this life we will face trials and, oh, how I’ve experienced God at work through so many of them. In hindsight, I can see the work He’s been able to accomplish even when I wasn’t a willing participant, but how much more He’s been able to do when I submitted to the process. So, the next time you find yourself in the fires of yet another of life’s trials, look for God. Know that He’s there with you. Ask yourself what cleansing you need as you walk through this fire. Then, keep your eyes firmly fixed on God and trust Him to lead you through the fire.