Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three men of great faith. They walked through a blazing furnace that was 100% real — so real, in fact, that the soldiers who threw them in died just from standing so close to it (Daniel 3:22). While these three men weren’t completely sure God would save them from the fire (v. 18), they knew He was more powerful than death, and that their future was secure in Him. So they respectfully denied the king’s decree to worship an idol and faced the consequences. As you may already know, their story didn’t end there. Jesus met those men of faith in the fire and kept them from harm. And when they came out, not a hair on their heads nor a scrap of clothing was singed or even smelled like fire! Imagine that! What’s more, they became an example of faith and a testament to not only the king, but the whole province, bringing the good news of God to them all.
The point of this story? NOTHING and NO ONE can become great or do great things without first going through the pressure and refinement of fire.
Even Jesus, Lord of all and Holiest of Holies, went through fire. After he was baptized, the Spirit came down upon him and the Father announced his pleasure, and almost immediately he was sent into the wilderness to be brought through the fire of temptation for forty days. It was a spiritual requirement for him to have gone through this refinement before he officially began his ministry.
So what is spiritual refinement? What is the fire? And who is the Refiner?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines refinement as, “the act or process of removing unwanted substances from something,” or “the act or process of making something pure” (Refinement, 2014). So, spiritual refinement can loosely be described as the act or process of removing (undesirable) sin from a person, or the act or process of making a person more holy (pure).
This word did not enter the stage until about 1611 (Refinement, 2014), roughly when it began to be used as a process to purify metals for the making of weaponry. I can’t tell you a lot about the specific process of refinement (in fact it is so complicated that after searching for 20 minutes on the topic in online libraries, I could not find one article explaining it clearly or succinctly); however, I do know that it takes quite a high temperature to get to the point of melting so that one can refine metals. If you apply this spiritually, you may come to the realization (as I have) that you probably aren’t about to become more pure or holy in God’s eyes with “no sweat,” as they say. It’s about to get hot up in here.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fire with no harm done to them. They went in saying to their king, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV). Even if he does not. These three men were willing to risk their lives rather than bow down to an idol in worship. They went into the furnace with faith, not knowing the outcome, but knowing in the end that God’s glory would prevail. Yes, sometimes the Lord does bring us through fire and it has no power–it can’t even touch a single hair on our heads. But sometimes, too, the fire we are called to walk through does not leave us unscathed. Sometimes, we are left with scars as proof of the trials. And those scars carry an awfully important purpose.
Do you remember “doubting Thomas,” Jesus’s disciple who had a hard time believing Jesus had risen from the dead? In John 20, Jesus appeared to the disciples, after having been crucified and brought back to life, when Thomas was not there. The disciples were so excited they began telling everyone what happened, to which Thomas rebutted, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (NIV). Later, Jesus appeared once again to the disciples and he made it a priority to turn to Thomas and say, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (NIV). Can you imagine feeling the wounds of Jesus Christ?? I am sure in that instant any fleeting traces of doubt instantly left Thomas’s mind and he felt insignificant and foolish for ever having questioned Jesus’s power. That must have been such an amazing ministry to Thomas, and the Lord must have been so real to all of them in that moment! Now if you think about it, Jesus was brought to the throne room of God; he could have asked for his body to be made perfect once again. He could have come back with all the glory and splendor of God, but chose instead to be real, human, wrought with holes in his flesh. It is because of those scars that Thomas believed, not in spite of them. Now they may not have been very pretty, but they sure were real, and they were most certainly important!
So what is your attitude about your scars? That they’re just ugly, useless reminders of the bad things in your life? Or that they are testaments to the glory and power of God in you?
I was sitting down with an old friend the other day. She and I ended up talking for over an hour and a half before I finally mustered up the courage to bring up what I had been dying to talk about all along. The conversation was almost over and I had to speak now, so I let out a quiet “There’s really no non-awkward way to say this,” and launched into a slightly less timid, “How are you doing… spiritually?” She proceeded (after a few moments of being unsure whether she should say anything at all) to tell me almost gushingly and with relief about a sin issue she had been dealing with secretly for a while now. I was surprised. She wasn’t the type to deal with this sort of issue, and I really didn’t expect her to want to talk about it with me. Looking back, I know it was a God thing she said anything at all. I immediately tried to comfort her, knowing this sort of situation was not pleasant (firsthand), and referenced back to a time in my life that a similar sin overtook me. She replied to my story by saying, “Thank you; I never knew that about you.” My scars were able to be her comfort, knowing that she too could one day be healed from this sin in her life by the grace and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Refinement will likely not be an easy process. It will take a lot out of you — namely, the sin that God never wanted there in the first place. And in the process you may experience some pain and some scarring as the Lord separates YOU from the WORLD… but refinement is necessary. It it is what brings us to a place of humility and wisdom before the Lord. It is what prepares us to do His will and what sets us apart as His. Sometimes in life we will fall into the fire; sometimes we will be tossed into it. But no matter what way we enter the process of refinement, whether we come out with scars as proof, or no hint of fire on us, the point of the fire is to prove that our God is bigger than it. And He is. Immeasurably so.
Just two chapters after that moment where Jesus showed Thomas his scars, we read in Acts 1 that He instructed his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is the only reason we can walk in the fire. Without His power within us, we have no authority over that fire. We cannot be effective where we have been called until we invite Him into our lives to empower us to walk through the flames. And we cannot be effective until we have been refined by the flame and held in the grip of the Refiner. But with His Spirit and by His grace, we can do more than walk through the fire. We can be healed of our scars and we can heal others. We can help the lame to walk, the mute to speak, and the blind to see. We can be more than conquerors (see Romans 8), and we don’t have to be afraid of the fire, because the Lord will be right there with us.
I would encourage you all to embrace your scars for what they are — testaments to the grace God has given you, and to the power of the transformation He can do in the lives of others. So go out, by the power and grace of God, and be proud of the work He has done in you. Go, show off your scars, and help others’ scars find their purpose. After all, salvation really is about how He’s changed you, not how He needs to change others.
John 9:25 — “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%203%20&version=NIV.
Refinement. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/refinement