Suffering—Refined Like Silver (part 2)

Feb 21 | Posted by: Jeff Deyo |

We know that every good and perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father and that he loves to give good gifts to those who ask, but can you imagine the dilemma he faces in deciding how and when to give these gifts? He undoubtedly realizes his kindness toward us may backfire.

Firstly, if he chooses to bless us with prosperity—much like he has the United States of America—he risks such a nation arriving at the ridiculous conclusion that they have somehow self-generated this blessing via their own ingenuity, brilliance, or hard work. He knows, the recipient of his great kindness may naively become puffed up with pride, feeling bafflingly invincible, while completely losing sight of the actual source of the blessing. The gift originally meant for good now accomplishes the very opposite of its intended purpose.

Secondly, if God were to consider giving us something sweet—something delicious to enjoy—like a peach—he knows full well our tendency to be unsatisfied—to always want more. While the peach is sweeter than anything we’ve ever known, we only begin to dream of ways to make it sweeter. To enjoy new heights. Even to reach for fulfillment in God’s gifts rather than in the gift Giver. So we concentrate the peach, make it five times sweeter, and aim to overload our senses. Yet we remain unsatisfied, ever reaching to create or to discover something that fulfills. Our ongoing endeavor to expand upon God’s gifts—possibly taking them outside the constraints of his design—actually distances us from the very One who gave us the good gifts to begin with.

All things considered—if you were God—would you—with great love in your heart—think twice about pouring material blessings on your creation? Especially when suffering and difficulty seem to draw them to their knees swifter than prosperity?

Interesting.

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7

Many of us have heard or read about the painstaking process silver goes through when it is refined, yet when speaking or writing on the subject of suffering and pain, we would be remiss to not revisit this powerful parallel.

Yet before I attempt this, I must apologize firstly to those who feel strongly that God never causes us pain directly, but only uses pain caused by others, ourselves, and the devil to help refine us. No doubt, he uses this pain to work good in our lives, but he is bound to do a gross amount of waiting around if this is his only tactic.

In fact, the God we read about in the Bible isn’t dependent on anyone else for anything. He does what he wants, when he wants, and if he wants to work pain in our lives for long term good, he doesn’t need to wait around for someone to do something dreadful to us. He can work difficulty in our lives all by himself. Directly. Sovereignly.

If this messes with your theology, I encourage you to…well, get over it. As I suggested in my last blog on suffering, the goodness of God is not at all at stake here, even if our definition of what we call “good” is. Again, if God uses something “bad”—pain, trials, or struggle—to work good in our lives, couldn't it be that the thing we labeled “bad” is actually, in a sense, good.

No, we aren’t saying that cancer or sickness or betrayal is good, but we are stepping back to see the bigger picture—in order to see the forest despite the trees—so we can understand the way God measures the moments in our lives—not so much as "good" or "bad" as we do, but on the whole, as a life stretched out over many years. No doubt, he is always working things for Kingdom good, in both the bad (the uncomfortable) and the good (the comfortable).

1 Peter 4:19 reminds; “If you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” This verse is quite curious in that it infers God’s pleasure when we suffer. The New King James Version says it even bolder; “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

WOW. Could it be that it is actually God’s will for us to suffer? If we ponder this too much, it could make us a bit uncomfortable, for it seems we are mostly taught that suffering is not God’s will. Or at least that God has nothing to do with it and wills to vanquish it all from our lives. But this is not the case.

David said, “The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles.” Psalm 119:71

Solomon writes, "Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us." Ecclesiastes 7:3

Romans 5:3 prompts, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” The Amplified version phrases it this way; “Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.”

Amazing. Suffering actually produces good in us that cannot be produced otherwise.

God uses pain and difficulty in our lives—purposefully, poignantly—to produce strength and power and perseverance. To help us understand that when we stay connected to him we have the supernatural ability to overcome what we can’t overcome when we are separated from him.

One of the terms used in the scriptures to describe this process is refining. The Bible refers to our trials as refining fire and to our God as the Refiner. “You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver melted in a crucible.” Psalm 66:10.

But what does it mean to be purified like silver melted in a crucible?

You can obviously Google this yourself, but it basically goes like this. A good silver smith, or Refiner, knows how to make the purest of silver. Silver typically results from a smelting process that separates the silver from common metals like tin, zinc, and copper. The silversmith begins with hardened rock containing these minerals inside. The Refiner is able to take one look at the rock and see the potential it has to produce pure silver—if only it is put through the refining process. And so he begins by breaking the hardened rock.

The broken rock is placed in a fireproof melting pot called a crucible and is submitted to high intensity heat, a process which eventually separates the silver from the rock. The heat brings the impurities in the silver to the surface, and then these impurities—dross—are scraped off and cast aside, leaving the silver. Rarely is the process complete after one round. In order to produce the purest silver, the process is repeated, over and over again, sometimes up to seven times... High heat is applied. Impurities rise to the surface. They are removed. The silver is further purified. And again and again this happens.

Interestingly, the Refiner has two specific ways of knowing when the silver is purified and ready for use. First, the rock—once hard and dull—has now become fluid and clear, mirror like. When the silver is at its purest, the Refiner can actually look into it and see the perfect reflection of his face. Second, once it has cooled, the Refiner can rub his finger along the silver, and it will make a noise, much like the noise one makes when rubbing his finger around the top of a silver goblet. A singing noise. A song birthed out of the pain and suffering, produced by the heat and the extraction of impurities.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” Isaiah 48:10

Through pain, God helps us see ourselves, for it is when we are pressed on all sides that we see what we are really made of—if we trust God or if we are filled with fear. My pastor used to say that we are like plastic ketchup bottles. It isn’t until we are squeezed that we know what’s on the inside. Then, not only can he expose and destroy the impurities that lurk within us, he can also fashion us supernaturally into Kingdom people who reflect his goodness.

What a horrible wonderful process!

Much like refining, pruning is a process—another painful one—that God designed to help us grow. I noticed in John 15 that God doesn’t only prune—cut off—the dead branches in our lives—the ones producing no fruit. He also cuts back the braches that are already bearing good fruit, so that they will bear more fruit. In this way, every branch gets cut!

Isn’t it the same with the analogy of the potter and the clay? Isn’t it God, himself—the Potter—who places us on the spinning potter’s wheel? Isn’t it the Potter who presses, pushes, pokes and prods at us—the clay—to fashion us desperately into a beautiful bowl or basin? Isn’t it God who fires us in the intense heat of the kiln with the hopes of solidifying a vessel worthy of Kingdom use?

God doesn’t need to wait for bad circumstances or some devilish plot against us to work his “goodness” in our lives. He knows just where to pinch, just where to nudge, to make us into all he wants us to be. And he wouldn’t dare leave us on the Potter’s wheel alone, for then we would collapse into a jumbled heap.

How ironic it is that blessings often push us away from God while trials often draw us wantingly into his presence. Maybe this is because our definition of blessing is not the same as God’s. Maybe God’s idea of blessing has more to do with peace than prosperity, with rest rather than riches, with relationship instead of success.

But what about abundant life? Doesn’t God’s greatest plan for us involve his Word taken from Jeremiah 29:11? “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Yes, these are his plans for us. Plans to prosper us—for eternity. Plans not to harm us—by giving us earthly blessings that will push us away from him. Plans to give us a hope and a future—a life with him in heaven where every tear is wiped away.

Honestly, God is considerably more interested in doing whatever it takes to bring us into true relationship with him for the long haul—granting us eternal blessings—than he is in giving us fleeting success or passing prosperity here on earth. God is good. All the time. But intriguingly, his definition of “good” is often very different than ours—because his is focused on the big picture—on our future more than on our comfort.

These incredible lyrics from Laura Story’s song “Blessings” paint a compelling picture of what God is after when it comes to suffering in our lives.

Blessings

By Laura Story 

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

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