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.