Friday, February 20, 2009

...purifying, sacred flames that conform us to the image of Christ

An Encore Presentation

“If you are just now in the fire, dear soul, be of good cheer – it shows at least that you are silver, and are capable of performing more acceptable service in God’s holy Temple.”

"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." -Malachi 3:3

This verse puzzled some people in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the folks offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the person called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. They didn't mention anything about the reason for their interest beyond the curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As they watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained, "in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities."

The person thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then they thought again about the verse that says: "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."

Asking the silversmith, "is it true that you have to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined?" The man answered “yes…” He not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The person was silent for a moment and then asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it."

All Things For Good
What a simple yet profound story isn't it beloved? In it is revealed God's sovereign purpose of grace through every one of life's trials that He allows to touch His own children. These are the "good and perfect gifts" of James 1 that fall from above. We usually don't think of our daily pains and struggles as "gifts" do we? But this is part of God's loving sanctifying plan to make us more like Jesus; to conform us to Christlikeness; and to allow us to be placed sometimes in overwhelming circumstances where in our deliverance HE will receive all the glory. As the familiar words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28 says,
“And He works all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”
What does this really mean? First of all, Paul is not giving the church a magical mantra that we chant in the very hardest times of life so at the end of the day all things are always cheery, rosy, and resolved for the Christian. Some have unwittingly tried to use it in this fashion which it wasn't designed to be. So then we must rightly ask, "how is it that “all things [truly] work together for good…?” Romans 8:29 gives us the answer:
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (emphasis mine).
THERE is the cause for rejoicing; there is where our great hope lies; there is the reason for victory in the midst of trial; there is the fountain of joy in the midst of scalding tears. Every trial—even when purposed by others for our harm, God will use it for our good in that we have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

Not Consumed; Not Destroyed; but Purified
John Piper so powerfully expounds on the refiner’s fire this way:
“He is a refiner's fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner's fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner's fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner's fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner's fire.

It does say FIRE. And therefore purity and holiness will always be a dreadful thing. There will always be a proper "fear and trembling" in the process of becoming pure. We learn it from the time we are little children: never play with fire! And it's a good lesson! Therefore, Christianity is never a plaything. And the passion for purity is never flippant. He is like fire and fire is serious. You don't fool around with it.

But it does say, he is like a REFINER'S fire. And therefore this is not merely a word of warning, but a tremendous word of hope. The furnace of affliction in the family of God is always for refinement, never for destruction.” (John Piper, November 29, 1987, Desiring God Ministries).
Wisdom from Ages Past
“The beauty of this picture is that the refiner looks into the open furnace, or pot, and knows that the process of purifying is complete, and the dross all burnt away, when he can see his image plainly reflected in the molten metal.” (Baldwin)

“What a comfort it is that He surrenders this work to no other hands than his own. He may give his angels charge concerning us when we are in danger; but he keeps our purification beneath his special superintendence.” (Meyer)

“The sitting posture shows that the refiner may seem indifferent, but He is not. He is carefully working with the silver, burning off and scraping away the dross that that the flames bring to the top. “I think I see in the sitting down of the refiner a settled patience, as if he seemed to say, ‘This is stern work, and I will sit down to it, for it will need care, and time, and constant watchfulness.’” (Spurgeon)
In the Winepress of His Love
Can we say with Peter today from the crucible of grace: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

“Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). This perhaps will be one of the greatest cordials to a Christian in heaviness: that he is not kept by his own power, but is kept by the power of God, and that he is not left in his own keeping, but is kept by the Most High. “My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:26). “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

But take away the doctrine of the Savior’s keeping His people, and where is our hope? What is there in the gospel worth any of our preaching or worth any of our receiving? I know that He has said, “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). "Lord, but suppose they should grow faint—that they should begin to murmur in their affliction. Shall they not perish then? No, they shall never perish. But suppose the pain should grow so hot that their faith should fail. Shall they not perish then? No" says, Spurgeon. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

AH! This is the doctrine, the cheering assurance “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” (1 Peter 1:6).

So if today you are in the heat of the flame and are in the center of the blaze of His refiner’s fire, remember that God has His eye on you and by His grace will keep purifying you (He will not let it destroy you) until He sees His image reflected in you.

I want to close with the impacting lyric of the song, "The Refiner's Fire," that my friend Steve Green recorded in 1989 for his album called, "The Mission." It is written by Brian Doerksen and perfectly captures the heart and truth of this post.

May it deeply encourage you today in your walk with Jesus. To paraphrase John Piper, "don't waste the flame; embrace it."

In the tears of His sanctifying grace,

The Refiner's Fire

There burns a fire with sacred heat
White hot with holy flame
And all who dare pass through its blaze
Will not emerge the same
Some as bronze, and some as silver
Some as gold, then with great skill
All are hammered by their sufferings
On the anvil of His will

The Refiner's fire
Has now become my souls desire
Purged and cleansed and purified
That the Lord be glorified
He is consuming my soul
Refining me, making me whole
No matter what I may lose
I choose the Refiner's fire

I'm learning now to trust His touch
To crave the fire's embrace
For though my past with sin was etched
His mercies did erase
Each time His purging cleanses deeper
I'm not sure that I'll survive
Yet the strength in growing weaker
Keeps my hungry soul alive


ann_in_grace said...


donsands said...

When I look back over some of my refining, there seemed to be different degrees of refinement.
Sometimes the flames are set low, and other times high.

I feel like a bar of dross at times, with a sprinkling of precious metal.

Nice study to read and ponder. Thanks for putting this together.

Breuss Wane said...

It is only after the Bride has passed through the crucible of martyrdom at the hands of wicked Babylon that there is a robe, a feast, and a celebration (Rev. 17-19).

Great post.

Carla Rolfe said...

Agreed, great post.

cyd said...

The strangely wonderful thing about trials is this: not only does the Refiner's fire purge the dross and make us more like Christ, but trials also allow us to see and know Him in ways we might never have before the appointed affliction.

In the end, He gives us Himself, and we find He truly is all we need!
Paul said it well - "Indeed, I counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may obtain the resurrecton from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."
Phil. 3:7-12

We are His fires...for our beautification...and His Glory. Hallelujah.

Thanks for this post, Steve.

SJ Camp said...

These are all very good comments...

The Refiner's Fire has an eschatological reality as Chad points out to us; there is a sanctifying reality as Don points out; and there is also a worship reality that Cyd points out.

Thank you all for your encouraging and biblical words on this important issue of suffering, trials and struggles in our daily walk with the Lord.

Grace and peace,
2 Tim. 1:8

Jeremy Weaver said...

Didn't someone else write a song with a line like,"trials are friends to me..."?

Connie said...

Thank you SO much for this! Not only has it ministered to me, it is so timely as I counsel and encourage women struggling with assurance, and women struggling with trials. Thank you!

Season_in_His_refinery said...


Commenting from the embers; clinging to 1 Peter 5:10-11,


Bhedr said...

Tremendous post

ruth said...

This song inspired me through the years of trials. After the tragedy which buried our house, everything we had in a landslide, I still choose the Refiner's fire.

reformedmomof6 said...

Thank you for SUCH encouragement at a very difficult time in the life of our family. My husband has been out of work for months and is, at this very moment, 800 miles away from me and 5 of our 6 children, looking for work. The Truth that God is Personally Superintending this lengthy trial of ours and that He WILL end it short of its destroying us was something of which we needed to be reminded. This is truly a cup of fresh water to some very weary souls. God bless.

Amy said...

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:2

Thank you brother.
a voice crying out........

karenrob said...

Although I am currently going through the refining fire, I am finding ways to use it as a witness to others. I posted a blogpost, "Praise the Lord

, today to share what I am experiencing. I trust the post will minister to others who are experiencing what you have written about.