The refiner's fire

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a 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 3:1-3)

As much as I enjoy the musical quality of so many modern worship songs, it has begun to feel like many of them are variations on the same theme: Hold on to your faith, for God is about to bring you a breakthrough! Certainly, we could all use some encouragement and inspiration as we navigate the challenges of life. But God’s ways are not our ways, and the process He uses to answer our prayers does not typically follow the neat pattern of (1) pray hard, (2) believe in faith, and (3) receive your breakthrough!

One classic hymn that would NEVER be written today was penned in the 18th century by John Newton, who is best known for writing Amazing Grace. The song is called “I asked the Lord that I might grow,” and it poignantly describes how God uses suffering to refine us into Christlikeness. You can hear a version of this hymn here, and you can read the lyrics below:

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev'ry grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face
'Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair
I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in ev'ry part
Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I'd schemed
Cast out my feelings, laid me low
Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?
“'Tis in this way” the Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may'st seek Thy all in me”


How true, how frightening, how beautiful, those words are. We want God to painlessly transform us into a person of love, peace, and joy, but God knows that as long as our ultimate joy and love rests in the things and people of this world, we cannot have what we long for. And so, it is in the furnace of suffering that we see our self-centeredness and pride for what it is, that our grip on the things of this world is loosened, and where we find ourselves clinging to God until we realize that He is sufficient for us and the only true and lasting source of love, peace, and joy. May you trust in God’s love for you and believe this truth with all your heart as you endure His refiner’s fire.
 

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