October 17, 2017 • Life for Leaders
See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
When life is easy, we tend to get caught up in trivialities: worrying about our appearance, or passing on the latest gossip, or boasting in our material possessions, or wondering why a colleague has a better assignment at work, or… you name it. Often that which matters most gets ignored. We miss family gatherings so we can work a few extra hours. Or when we’re with our loved ones, we spend our time staring at our smartphone screens. We spend less time with the Lord, skipping church or skimping on our devotions.
Suffering has a way of refocusing our minds and hearts. When we’re in pain, be it physical, emotional, or relational, we stop caring about little things that don’t matter. Our hearts yearn for what is truly important: the love of family and friends, the assurance that life has meaning, justice for all people, and, the transformational peace of God.
Thus, God uses pain to refine us, burning away the dross of our life. When we’re in the “furnace of affliction,” we often wonder where God is and why he is letting us hurt. We wonder if we will survive. Isaiah 48:10 reassures us that God is testing us but not destroying us. He is not using a refining process like the one that purifies silver. The heat of such a process would burn us to a crisp. No, God’s refining is not easy, but it’s not destructive.
It’s often hard to discern God’s presence in the midst of suffering. Yet when we look back on the hard times of our lives, we can see how God uses them for our good. This doesn’t mean we look forward to suffering, but it does mean that we can find in our pain the peace that comes from a deeper experience of God.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you known what it’s like to be in the furnace of suffering?
How has pain helped you to grow in your relationship with God?
What helps you to sense God’s presence when you’re hurting?
Gracious God, I must admit that I don’t like this notion of the furnace of suffering. Being refined by you sounds just fine. But when I think of the process of refining, especially the pain involved, I’m much less enthusiastic. How I wish there were an easier way for me to grow in grace and goodness!
Nevertheless, Lord, when I look back at my life, I can see how you have been at work in me during difficult times. I think of that wonderful verse written by John Rippon in “How Firm a Foundation”:
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Thank you, gracious Father, for using the difficult times of my life for your advantage… and for mine. Thank you for making me more like you, in good times and especially in hard times. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: If I’m Suffering, Is God Punishing Me?
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.