The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:28
MARBC Executive Director
Those familiar with southern California know that the region frequently experiences wildfires. The paths of the fires are unpredictable. Dry conditions make even a small fire a giant problem. Wind currents can shift quickly and unpredictably as they move from valley to valley, making containment of the fires difficult.
One fire in that area a few years ago destroyed over 2,500 homes. As the home owners returned and sifted through the blackened debris, they found that all their possessions had been reduced to soot. However, as one family searched through the rubble where their home once stood, they discovered a familiar sight. There in the middle of the charred remains was a tiny porcelain rabbit that had sat on a coffee table in the family room. They marveled that so fragile an object had survived intact. Others whose homes were lost in the fire also found pottery and porcelain items that had endured the intense inferno.
The Sunday after the disaster a local pastor brought to the pulpit an unbroken vase. It was the only thing that he had been able to recover from his home. Holding the vase before his congregation he asked, “Do you know why this item is still here but my house is gone?” He answered his own question by replying, “Because this had passed through the fire once before.”
In his first New Testament letter, the Apostle Peter compares the imagery of fire to the trials that Christians will face during their earthly pilgrimage. Peter reminds his persecuted readers of the joy that is theirs because they possess an “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [them]” (1 Peter 1:4-5). He then shares this important principle regarding trials – “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more than gold that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
C. S. Lewis once observed that “Trials are not an elective in the Christian life, they are a required course. Patience is accepting a difficult situation without giving God a deadline.”
The imagery of fiery trials in Scripture relates to the intensity of the suffering like a smelter’s furnace used to heat metal in order to purify it. As the heat intensifies, various impurities rise to the surface. The smelter can then skim the surface of the molten metal with a filter to remove those impurities. Similarly, the heat of spiritual trials brings the impurities of the believer’s sinful nature to the surface where they can be removed through the filtering process of God’s Word as enabled by the Holy Spirit. All of this is directed by a caring God in order to “forge” His children into His likeness and to strengthen them to face the extreme tests that life presents daily.
A ministry friend of ours, Deb (Jackson) Searles, wrote a poem several years ago that deals with the spiritual subject of fiery trials. Deb penned “The Fire” after experiencing her own personal trial. She then put these words to music. It was recorded by Deb and her sister, Dee, as well as by Christine Wyrtzen.
I’ve been through a fire
That has deepened my desire
To know the living God more and more;
It hasn’t been much fun,
But the work that it has done
In my life has made it worth the hurt.
You see, sometimes we need the hard times
To bring us to our knees –
Otherwise we do as we please
And never heed Him;
But He always knows what’s best,
And it’s when we are distressed
That we really come to know God as He is.
(“The Fire,” Words and Music by Deb Jackson, arranged by Christine Wyrtzen, copyright 1981 by Singspiration Music / ASCAP)
In the songbook, “LifeSong,” Deb shares this testimony as a preface to her song, “The Fire”:
“In 1977 I went through several months of frustration and confusion that comes with physically caused depression. I never thought I’d make it through or ever be happy again. I hated it and I wanted to die. But I grew so much and God truly deepened my understanding of Himself and His plan. I can say now that it was worth the hurt!” The words paint a picture of trust in a God Who never allows things to enter the life of His children haphazardly.
Later in his first letter to suffering Christians, Peter shares that suffering and trials should not take Christians by surprise. “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). In fact, suffering and trials give Christians the opportunity to be identified with Christ. Verse 13 encourages Christ’s followers to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” Notice that the word “joy” is used three times in these two verses. Trials enable Christians to enter into a closer, joyful relationship with Christ. The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippian Christians of that possibility – “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
Fiery trials allow God to refine us as Christ’s followers, encourage others as they observe our faith while going through difficulties, and bring glory to God. It may be God’s intention to use you and your fiery experience to impact the lives of others in order to bring God glory.
In the second century A. D., Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was arrested for heresy by the Roman government. He was arrested because he had refused to burn incense in tribute to the supposed lordship and deity of Caesar. Polycarp instead publicly declared his faith in Christ alone. He was threatened with execution unless he recanted his faith in Christ and declared his total allegiance to Caesar. Polycarp responded – “Eighty and six years have I served Him and He never did me any injury. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Bring forth what thou will.”
Having heard Polycarp’s statement, the Roman officer in charge of his execution stated, “I have respect for your age. Simply say, ‘Away with the atheists!’ and you will be set free.” By “the atheists” the officer was referring to the Christians who would not acknowledge that Caesar was “lord.” The old man pointed to the crowd of Roman pagans surrounding him and cried, “Away with the atheists!” Polycarp was burned at the stake and then stabbed to death when the burning did not kill him. His testimony and martyrdom brought glory to the name of Jesus Christ.
Fiery trials may be very painful, but by God’s grace we endure them. As a result, our trust in God can emerge from the blazing furnace purer and stronger than it was before. In fact, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that helps shape our values. In God’s plan, the Christian’s life is not focused upon temporal possessions and ambitions, rather upon that which has long-term, spiritual value. That is the perspective God’s Word frames for us.
These principles serve as timely truths for Christians and churches in the State of Michigan as we deal with the current difficulties encompassing us. Instead of questioning why God would want us to go through an extreme time of testing, it may be better for us to look for the opportunities that He is developing for us in order to bring Him glory through the trials.
If you are currently going through a “fiery trial,” seek God’s insight through a careful study of His Word. There are precious things that He desires you to discover in the midst of the ashes.
You have His Word on it! (KEF)
Connor Wesley Helmick
Sharon and I pulled our first “all-nighter” since our youth ministry days on Thursday, May 28! We were summoned by a call from our son-in-law, Taylor, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening. Our daughter, Allison, had gone into labor! We made the trek from Grand Rapids to Canton, Ohio, and arrived at the hospital at 12:30 a.m.
We were blessed to hear the initial cries of our first grandchild, Connor Wesley Helmick, at 7:06 a.m. on Thursday, May 28. Connor checked in at 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 19 inches long. He has brownish auburn hair (he already has more hair than gramps – but who doesn’t!) and has a set of lungs that qualify him as preacher material. We praise God for His wonderful blessing!