The Furnace of Affliction.
“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” – Isaiah 48:10 NLT
Suffering. We despise it and can see no good reason for it. We avoid it like the plague and when in it, do everything in our power to get out of it. Which is only natural. But as Christ-followers, we are encouraged to have a different perspective on suffering – to see it from God’s point of view. Not all suffering may be God-caused, but it is all God-used. In the case of the people of Judah and Israel, God had brought upon them the suffering they were experiencing. And for good reason. They were rebellious and unfaithful. In spite of all that God had done for them, they had rejected Him. Isaiah described them this way: “You don’t keep your promises, even though you call yourself the holy city and talk about depending on the God of Israel, whose name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Isaiah 48:1-2 NLT). So God had predicted what was going to happen. He told them that He would discipline them. But they refused to listen. And God knew why. “For I know how stubborn and obstinate you are. Your necks are as unbending as iron. Your heads are as hard as bronze. That is why I told you what would happen; I told you beforehand what I was going to do. Then you could never say, ‘My idols did it. My wooden image and metal god commanded it to happen!’” (Isaiah 48:4-5 NLT). God told them exactly what He was going to do and then did it. He predicted their punishment, and it happened just like He said. He allowed them to suffer so that they could see and understand that He alone is God. He did it to get their attention. Suffering has a great way of improving our prayer lives and destroying our sense of self-autonomy. It has a tendency to drive us to God. As the old saying goes, “There are no atheists in fox holes.”
God refines us. He is out to purify us. And that sometimes requires heat. The flames of affliction have a way of burning off all that does not belong. When silver is refined, heat is used to burn away anything that is impure or foreign, so that all that is left is pure silver. But God says He does not refine us in that way. If He did, there would be nothing left. If God burned away all the impurity in our lives, we would be consumed. Instead, He takes us through the fires of affliction, not to consume us, but to remind us of our need for Him. He does it because He loves us. He wants us to turn to Him and sometimes it takes suffering and pain to make us do just that. The writer of Hebrews understood that concept. “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.'” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT).
God’s discipline always has a purpose. He has a reason behind everything that happens in our lives. It’s hard for us to see it when we are going through it, but we must trust that He loves us and has our best in mind. “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11 NLT).
God is always teaching us. He is constantly trying to get our attention in order to show us that His way is the best way. “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow. Oh, that you had listened to my commands! Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea” (Isaiah 48:17-18 NLT). God’s discipline is not punitive, it’s instructive. He is teaching us. He is revealing Himself to us in the midst of our suffering. He wants to show us His power in the midst of our weakness. He wants to restore and bless us. But first we have to turn to Him. We have to trust Him. We have to rely on Him. Suffering has a way of making us do just that.
Father, I have to admit that I don’t relish the fires of affliction. And it is because I don’t fully understand or trust Your love for me. I disobey because I doubt. But You discipline because You love. Help me to understand that. I want to trust You more. I want to be able to rejoice in the midst of suffering because I truly believe You are there and You never leave me or forsake me. Help me to understand that the suffering I experience in this life can be a reminder of Your love. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men