The Refiner’s Fire

Today I had a profound encounter with the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last July I wrote a post referencing a man who regularly slept on the front porch of our church. I hadn’t seen my friend in many months until today when he visited my office with a heavily bandaged face and right hand.

My friend had been living and working on another island in The Bahamas when he had an accident. When lighting a fire to cook dinner, he inadvertently caused an explosion that launched him off the ground and temporarily took away his eyesight. As he recounted the story to me, the extensive burn marks on his face verified what he was saying.

At first, you could only feel sorry for the man because of what he had endured. But soon it became apparent that this fire had, in a manner, saved my friend’s life.

“I was blind, but now I see!”, he declared when entering my office. At first, I thought he was talking about his physical eyesight, but upon further reflection I think he was talking about his spiritual eyesight.

My friend was overwhelmed with emotion as he described his new perspective to me:

“I’ve been given a second chance!”

“I’m Jonah–I was swallowed, but I’ve been spit back up!”

“I’m Job–’Though He slay me, I will hope in Him’” (Job 13:15).

My friend shared how he was now reading his Bible every day and as I read some passages to encourage him, he insisted that I write down the references for him to look up later. He also thanked me for all that I had done for him, stood up and, with tears streaming down his face, gave me a hug.

I don’t know that I did all that much for him—some meals, some clean clothes, some encouragement, but sometimes we would go for weeks without any meaningful exchange.

At the end of the day, nothing I did brought about the transformation that I was witnessing. God did this.

One of the metaphors for salvation used in the Bible is that of the refiner’s fire. Many congregations even sing a hymn by that title. Amazingly, in this instance, the Lord chose literal fire to transform and refine a man that He refused to let go.

I am overjoyed that the word of the Lord, spoken through Zechariah, now applies to a man who once slept on our porch.

I will put them into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”

The Power and Compassion of Jesus

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Throughout the Scriptures, human beings are often depicted as struggling to see what I would call, “The bigger picture”. What is frequently the case is that our vision for the future becomes stunted by our preoccupation with the present. Furthermore, our vision for the future tends to be limited by our existing set of experiences.

This is precisely what we see in Martha as she goes out to greet Jesus following the death of her brother, Lazarus. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

It is not that Martha is altogether devoid of faith. Martha articulates, in this account, her conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (11:27). In addition, Martha evidently held the conviction that Jesus could heal the sick.

However, Martha’s perspective is limited in at least two ways. First of all, she says to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Martha’s perspective is that Jesus is too late. Martha’s view is that Jesus needed to arrive by a particular time if Lazarus was to be healed.

Secondly, Martha’s perspective was limited in terms of space. She says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Martha’s view was that the healing of Lazarus could only happen if Jesus was physically present. Perhaps she had not heard the account of when Jesus healed a centurion’s servant without even being in the presence of the ailing person (Luke 7:1-10).

I do not mean to unduly criticize Martha here because I reckon that I might very well have said the same thing. By pointing out Martha’s limited perspective, I only mean to highlight the limitations of our perspective as it relates to God’s working in our lives and in this world. Thankfully, Martha eventually puts her trust in Jesus. After initially lamenting that He did not arrive at their house in time, she eventually confesses to Jesus, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:22).

Friends, here is a demonstration of why faith is so vital. On this side of heaven, our view of God, and our view of the way things are, will inevitably be limited. For this reason, our posture before God must be the posture of humility, understanding that there is much that we cannot see. Along with a posture of humility, we will be well-served by the posture of faith, trusting that God is capable of doing what needs to be done. This becomes Martha’s posture.

And what a merciful response Jesus gives to her, “Your brother shall rise again” (John 11:23). Jesus responds to Martha’s faith with a blessed promise—Lazarus will live again.

Even still, Martha’s perspective remains limited—she can’t seem to overcome her conviction that the time of opportunity to heal Lazarus has passed, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day”, she says to Jesus (John 11:24). We see a measure of optimism in Martha’s response, but her optimism is tempered by her view of reality.

That’s our challenge, isn’t it? In attempting to be pragmatic, in attempting to be guided by reasonable expectations, we run the danger of settling for less than what is possible if Jesus were to apply His power. We possess a modicum of faith in Jesus, but often our view of what Jesus can accomplish is often quite small. We imagine that things like congregational growth and spiritual progress are limited by statistical probability and the natural ordering of things.

And then we, like Martha, have our limited notions shattered by Jesus, who says, “I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).

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