The Blessed Refining Effect of Trials

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Just as a crucible and a furnace are used to test the mixture of metals to bring the sludgy waste to the surface, so too the Lord uses adversity and trial to bring our sinful attitudes and actions to the surface to reveal our need for purification. This sanctifying process of being put through a trial is very hard and unpleasant, but is necessary if one wants to become purified. There is no shortcut to this process.

Sickness, disease, economic hardship, difficult relationship issues, and more all contribute to who we are as people. They shape us—sometimes for good, and sometimes for bad. For the Christian, trials and hardship are used by God to draw us closer to him and to show us those areas of our life that need spiritual attention. It is in these trials that we are forced to refocus and take account of the state of our heart. The problem is that sometimes we don’t take advantage of the lessons being taught, but instead we squander the opportunity that is afforded to us.

I remember two occasions when this was illustrated to me vividly. Both occasions were when loved ones were completely incapacitated by injury or illness. Lying on your back in a hospital has a way of getting your attention. For each of these people, it was a sobering time of contemplation. They were helpless and their forced stillness brought about a spiritual awareness of God’s presence. In those long days, the Lord did a work in their hearts, teaching lessons that each needed to hear, but couldn’t because of the busy noise of their everyday lives.

I learned this lesson myself when I too ended up in the emergency room, not on a pastoral visit, but as a patient. I was in excruciating pain and found that no matter what else may have been important before, everything stopped as my body screamed out for my attention. God was beginning his refining process with forcing me to look up to him.

Trials and difficulty are one way that the Lord clears our schedules and removes every other distractions so that he can whisper to our needs and speak to our heart. In these moments it is wise to listen.

Sometimes the trials of life don’t have the same effect. Instead of pointing them to God, they bring out the worst in people and shows what type of character that person truly is inside. They might be all shiny on the outside and look like “pure gold” to everyone when things go well, but a little heat applied through a trial might show a person to be only gold leaf over rusty tin.

The Coronavirus and the political issues on display every day in the news cycle, along with the normal wear and tear of life reveals the “stuff” people are made of. These trials and hardships put on display for all to see what is in their hearts. But instead of looking at your neighbor, I’d ask you to consider your own heart. What has the fire of these trials revealed to you about your own heart? Whatever it is, the Lord waits to hear from you. Go to him to thank him for the refining that he has brought through your trial. And then take some time to listen. He is not silent.

The Lying Allure of Desire

My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
” (Proverbs 5:1-6)

Although the context of Proverbs 5 clearly is a father’s warning to his son about the dangers of adultery, there is something more basic here that I think we all need to pay attention to if we are to continue walking in holiness.

This “forbidden woman” aligns not only with the tempter/temptress in the area of sex, but there is also a warning against chasing after anything forbidden. Eve desired the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and before her, Lucifer sought to take the place of God by seeking to take the glory that belongs to God alone. Man also seeks to steal God’s glory through pride, and we seek to idolize our own desires, placing them above the will and commands of God.

And what should catch our eye in this section of Proverbs 5 is the desirability of the forbidden object that blinds us to the tragic end that comes when we seek after it. The forbidden woman’s lips drip honey—not only desirable, but speaking with sweet words that are entice us to overlook the wickedness in her words. Her speech is described as being smooth like oil, words which rationalize and clear the way for our sin, without which we might be stopped by a sensitive conscience. These “smooth words” give answers to objections, and resistance is overcome with cool reasoning. Like the neurotoxin of a spider’s sting, the desire numbs the conscience, drawing in its victim slowly and carefully so as not to awaken a sense of guilt.

The fruit looks desirable, and it only makes sense to take it, after all, it offers so many advantages—what fool would pass up the delights that are promised? The fruit may take on many forms and flavors, but the fruit and its poison always fools and the same pathway of promises are never kept.

Hidden under the tongue of honey and smooth oil is a dagger. And the fool who follows this path will find they will awaken from their poison-induced stupor when it is too late. The desire has conceived her deadly spawn within the soul of the fool and has birthed sin. And like tiny parasitoid wasp eggs that have hatched, and the larvae awaken to feast on their host, leading to its tortuous death.

Why would we ever chase the forbidden fruit of sin and its desires? Because we are children of Adam and follow in Adam’s footsteps. And the only hope we have of breaking free from this body of sin and death is to place our hope in the One who resisted every temptation to sin and paid for the penalties of our sins committed upon the cross Romans 7:24-25).

The good news is that Christ, the serpent crusher, has won the victory. And as God’s children, we have been set free to walk in holiness and righteousness. One day, the victory will be complete, the serpent will be cast away into eternal fire, and the temptations will all end. Until then, I pray that we would all take the warnings of Scripture seriously and not allow for sin—even baby sin—to find a hiding place in our hearts, any more than we would allow a poisonous spider to nest in our pillow.

When the Tempest Passes

“When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
but the righteous is established forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

We have all had hard times in our lives, but sometimes it seems like wave after wave of bad news keeps crashing against us, giving us little time to catch our breath. This year has felt like that to many, maybe even you.

Sometimes, in the midst of that constant barrage, we can begin to feel like we are losing our grip, like the darkness will swallow us, and we will be lost. Can I point to some hope in these times? “When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)

What a great verse to remember for 2020. Every tempest and storm in life passes. The question we need to answer is, will we be standing on the other side? For the follower of Christ, the answer is an exuberant “yes!”

The tempest in your life might not be a person, it might be sickness, or financial troubles. It could be heartbreak, or maybe loss of a loved one. These too will pass. The sin which has brought into our world death, destruction, disease, calamity, and wicked people has been defeated upon the cross.

One day soon, the Lord will return and the storm will pass. One day, all will be made right in this world and all evil, and every effect from the fall will be brought to perfect righteousness.

The tempest will pass. Cling to Jesus in the storm. But if you feel your grip begin to slip, don’t worry. He is holding you firmly in his hands. And nothing can snatch you away.

…While the Devil Just Sits Back and Laughs

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

(Proverbs 6:16, 19, ESV)

Social media is sometimes a dumpster fire and Christian social media is often worse. It grieves my heart when I see a “perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord” (Prov. 6:14), but especially when it comes from the keyboard, computers and microphones of those who should know better.

Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook that sought to destroy, discredit, and malign a servant of God. The comments were filled with venom and hatred. The arrogance and pride was astounding. The flesh was in full force and all of this was done supposedly in the name of “truth” and for the honor of God! I understand there may be issues and doctrines of which we might disagree, but where is the grace in all of this rage?

My fellow Christians, there is much wisdom in correcting, and even rebuking a brother when they have erred. But how we do it is just as important as the need to correct. Some people become keyboard commandos and hatchet men when they are on their computers–saying things that they would never say person to person, or even out loud.

Solomon’s warnings show that just as dangerous as the adulteress (Prov. 5), a foolish pledge (Prov. 6:1-5), and a lazy lifestyle (Prov. 6:6-11), are the crooked and perverse words that seek to destroy (Prov. 6:12-19).

In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the “accuser of our brethren.” I pray that we have a clear understanding of the testimony of our words before the world and the Lord. Soemtimes I wonder if Satan is delighted to just let us go on and on with our destructive words tearing down the body of Christ with our own hands.

I leave you with these sobering words from James as a good reminder to us all:

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

(James 3:8–12, ESV)

Stay on the Path!

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
Turn your foot from evil.
” Proverbs 4:25–27 (NAS)

Staying on the path seems easy enough. But somehow it isn’t as easy as it seems. In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is met by Goodwill who explains to him the need to follow the narrow path:

And therefore good Christian, come a little way with me, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go. Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way? That is the way thou must go. It was cast up by the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and his apostles, and it is as strait as a rule can make it; this is the way thou must go.”
“But,” said Christian, “are there no turnings nor windings, by which a stranger may lose his way?”
“Yes, there are many ways down upon this, and they are crooked and wide: but thus thou mayest distinguish the right from the wrong, the right only being strait and narrow.

As Jesus taught, the gate and the way are narrow that lead to eternal life, and few find it. There are many obstacles and distractions that tempt the Christian to temporarily stray into the broad path.

The wise and godly watch their path, seeking to make corrections as they move forward. The Word of God is the guide, shedding light upon our way. It is when we stray from the path and go beyond the revealed will of God that we will find that we will find the most danger.

However, the narrow path does not promise that there will be no dangers or snares. As a matter of fact, the pathway can be a favored target of the evil one. But the Lord is not only our light, he is also our shield and comfort.

Where are you standing today with God? Have you strayed from the Lord and are you walking according to your own foolish counsel and wisdom? Have you found that your poor choices have produced painful consequences, and now you are thinking that it is probably time to return to Christ? What are you waiting for? Our Heavenly Father awaits you with open arms.

Are you walking with God, but are finding that the narrow road is also a hard one? In the days we are in, living for Christ is becoming more of a challenge. Be encouraged to know that many have walked this pilgrim path before you. Hebrews 11 serves as a great reminder of the hardships others have faced, but are greatly outweighed by the worth of the glory of heaven:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:32–40 (ESV):

Fellow pilgrims, stay on the path. Whether you see victories and foes vanquished or temporary suffering for Christ, in the end, we shall receive the promises of God and the journey will be over, for we shall be home!