See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Several years ago, Sue and I rented a house. Upon moving in, we realized that the oven appeared to have never been cleaned. Well, we rolled up our sleeves and got started. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves thinking, “How can we ever get this oven clean?” It seems that the harder we scrubbed it just wasn’t getting cleaner. As she was debating about heading to the store to look for a different cleaning product, she noticed that the oven had a “self-cleaning” option. We switched it on, and then watched in amazement. The oven heated itself to its hottest temperature and burned the food and grime right off. All that remained were some ashes in the bottom to simply wipe away.
As we enter a new church year, I am reminded that God has 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, God will often use those times to refine us.
Just how does God’s refining fire work? Sometimes the things that hold us back – doubt, past experience, uncertainty, self-focus, etc. – clings too tightly to easily 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. God is using that challenge to reset your priorities and focus.
As we enter into this new year, let’s commit to using this sacred time in the fire to open ourselves up to God’s work in our lives. Let's let our trials move us to action, to trusting God, to “welcoming any stranger who appears at our doorstep." Let’s let God’s self-cleaning cycle become that path which God elects to walk with us. For if we trust in this, we can then keep our eyes firmly fixed on God and that path through the fire. Once done, all that will remain will be the ashes beneath us that will also, simply need to be wiped away.
May you too find this clarity as you continue on through your journey.