God’s word is refined in me till it is proven flawless.
And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6NIV
In the Bible clay pots can symbolise people while silver and gold can symbolise that which God works into our hearts as we live by faith. In this Psalm we are clay crucibles in the furnace and God’s word within is challenged. When things go wrong, we question our understanding of what God has said. If we persevere with him, his word will prove true, yet the process refines and deepens our understanding. For example, take the verse-
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28NIV
When tragedy strikes, I am challenged to question my understanding of what God means by ‘good’. I wrestle with God concerning reality and how it challenges my understanding of what his truth is and what he means by it. I may have to endure grief as I let go of simplistic theologies. The outcome however, is a deeper knowledge of God himself.
Allowing my understanding of God’s word to be honed by life while upholding it as flawless, I come to a depth of understanding of who God is and what his word means that has integrity and is honest to the whole of Scripture. This is the silver that he is refining within us.
How do we move from a trained righteousness to truly live …
… a life worthy of the calling you have received. [Ephesians 4:1NIV]
Paul points to attitudes, actions and a spiritual dimension …
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. [Ephesians 4:2-3NIV]
When that behaviour is merely the product of training it looks good, but the outcome is not the unity of the Spirit nor the attitude love, yet when I break free I find I am immature …
… tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. [Ephesians 4:14NIV]
Being tossed between enforced ‘love’ and a freedom subject to selfishness indicates an area of immaturity where Jesus has been excluded. Thinking I knew how to behave, I never listened to Jesus to learn from him.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. [Ephesians 4:15NIV]
Paul points to the love of Christ. Training will always drive, no matter the cost to those we love or ourselves while Jesus understanding the whole draws us to love…
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:16NIV]
I have to be pushed beyond my resources before I recognise my need. My soul cries for God but my body interprets the cry as – eat more comfort food, get emotional space, be entertained.
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1-NIV)
In discouragement I need God above all. He is my lifeline.
I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? (Psalm 42:2-NIV)
In discouragement God seems distant.
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and 6 my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan… (Psalm 42:5-6-NIV)
In discouragement, there is one hope – my Saviour and God. The road begins when we choose to remember him, even with only the smallest trickle of encouragement as a spring on a barren mountain.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. (Psalm 42:7-NIV)
Life’s trials sweep over us reinforcing the question, “Where is your God?”
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. (Psalm 42:8-NIV)
The Lord pours out his love, will I receive it? Will I acknowledge that he sent it? Will I rejoice with him that he sent me life? I must choose to receive salvation though I don’t feel like it.
The offer of freedom to indulge our every whim is only as free as all the other offers we don’t believe. Those who taste its fruits become enslaved in dysfunctional relationships and addictive behaviours.
To these slaves, the Lord calls-
Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck. (Isaiah 52:2 NLT)
How are we supposed to remove the chains? If it was down to us we would fail, but the Lord promises intervention.
I can redeem you without having to pay for you.” (Isaiah 52:3 NLT)
The price of freedom has been paid by Jesus. The question is, am I willing to take the challenge of faith that he presents.
Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean. Get out of there and purify yourselves. (Isaiah 52:11 NLT)
The way to freedom is easy. It only requires us to act on a choice to leave everything that has held us and everything that is unclean. It may seem hurtful and uncaring to those we leave behind, but the Lord justifies and he transforms the circumstances so that ultimately the road to freedom will be acknowledged as the road of love.
You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the Lord will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 52:12 NLT)
The Lord offers to protect those who are willing to go with him and we follow him to a place of honour.
Becoming a living sacrifice does not come easily. Self does not go to the cross willingly. Living sacrifices are those who have surrendered their all to Jesus and received from him the life of God. We prefer to sacrifice almost anything else.
Esau in great anger comes with a force of 400 to destroy Jacob. Jacob, the schemer, in great anxiety tries to protect himself. He-
Schemes- splitting his party to reduce the chance of losing everything.
Prays- asking God to save ‘himself’ – while ignoring his family.
Sends gifts- hoping he will pacify his brother’s anger.
Sends his family to face his brother first.
Sends his possessions. Maybe these things will distract Esau.
Step by step he gives up everything, starting with his schemes until in the end he has given up what seems most precious. An observer might conclude he had surrendered all. God knew that he was withholding his heart.
When God sees he has nothing left to negotiate with, he comes and wrestles with Jacob- all night until, with one touch to the hip, God disables Jacob and he surrenders.
The form of the surrender is instructive. Jacob will not let go of God until he blesses him. The blessing shows two factors.
Jacob acknowledges both God’s superiority and his own surrender. Hebrews 7:7 says, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.”
Jacob receives from God a new identity and a new hope – ‘Struggled with God and men and overcame’.
In peace, Jacob limps ahead of his family to meet his brother …
We desire to see the Lord’s fame go to the world, to see God yield His harvest.
Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him. (Psalm67:6-7)
This skips to the end of a process. It begins with –
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, (Psalm67;1)
Great! I want that too! When however, He chooses to answer at a time of His choosing, will I be ready to respond? When He wakes me at 3:00am am I willing to get out of bed and receive that blessing?
that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. (Psalm67:2)
I might think of this blessing as a purely personal thing between God and myself. Yet it is precisely such personal blessings that go out to bless His world.
People see and hear how the Lord has worked His ways in us. This demonstrates something living and practical. They are inspired to seek God too. People hear of how the Lord rescued us from challenging situations and they are emboldened to ask Him for their own.
He uses a ripple effect, throwing a pebble into the pond so the waves go out. The wave is with us for a short time, we forget and move on. The Lord however makes the fruit of that personal encounter persist into the lives of others, and beyond to people around them.
These verses of Psalm 66 begin and end with something we desire: To overflow with praise at God’s abundance. The road to abundance however, runs through fires of refining.
11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,
These fires might push us towards bitterness in our frustration. We question how the Lord can be glorified through such situations where the unrighteous are winning and our response is far from good.
10 For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver
The point of refining is to expose rubbish so that it can to be dealt with. Without heat, we imagine ourselves to be godly. Only when heat exposes poor character can we become aware of our need to ask the Lord for help to deal with issues that He was always aware of.
Often the way to refining is opened by a poor decision. It is a necessary step for without the refining we would be unable to appreciate or rest in the forthcoming abundance.
9 he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
The Lord encourages us that He will preserve us. We may stumble, but the Lord keeps us from slipping. In this hope we can face the challenges that come our way with an assurance that He will bring us through to a place of abundance.
Jesus’ unearths His followers’ motives following the feeding of the 5000 because it is here that the eternal value of what someone does is seen.
‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. John 6:26
What is the difference between eating bread that came to people as a miracle and seeing signs? They were the same event! The difference is in the focus. If I am looking for Jesus because I ate the bread and had my fill, then the focus is on me. If the focus is on Jesus, then I am looking for Him in order to worship Him. Jesus’ statement asks questions about my direction and focus in life –
Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John 6:27
In our materialistic age I can be caught up with what is ultimately material, even if it seems spiritual. Paul identified Faith, hope and love as the three that persist. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus asks questions of our motives too. Seeing our lives through the lens of ‘faith, hope and love’ helps us see if we are trying to use Him to get what we want out of life or whether we are working for the food that endures to eternal life.
Life circumstances push faith to the limit. We wonder why our ‘faithful God’ has abandoned us. Such trials expose the extent of our faithfulness to God’s word.
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (Ps 119:92)
We can be so angry with God for allowing affliction that spiritual death takes hold. Affliction exposes how much we learned to delight in the Lord and His law in the easy times.
I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. (Ps 119:93)
Those who have been through trials with God can testify that His Word preserved their lives. Through His Word they had an inner strength to face impossible odds.
Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. (Ps 119:94)
From this place of having proved God’s Word, God’s servant calls out for salvation to the only one worth calling to.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. (Ps 119:95)
The fruit of this proving ground is that there is a confident hope of God’s salvation, and so sufficient peace to ponder God’s work while most at this point would struggle with anxiety. 96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.
Perfection is limited in that it is predictable. God’s Word is boundless because when the Lord fulfils His Word we are always surprised by the twists with which He does it.
We see a world in flux. The ‘best’ lasts six months. The ‘must have’ I-Phone 5, gives way to I-Phone 6. If ‘the best’ lasts a year, how can the Bible, written thousands of years ago claim to persist? The Bible is clear about itself –
Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89
If the Lord’s word were fixed on earth it would change. Instead it is fixed in heaven, the home of our Lord who created time! He is Alpha and Omega who knows the end from the beginning and can have text written that persists through time.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
Life on earth appears to persist on a knife edge. During the Cuban missile crisis an officer on a Russian submarine refused to launch a nuclear strike. Today many fear global warming. Continuing life on earth testifies to God’s faithfulness.
91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.
God’s word stands to this day, not because He has been clever at writing and anticipated all that was needed. Rather, the whole universe rests on the frame of His word. All that happens works to serve His purposes –Jesus’ death on the cross was intended as evil, but brought salvation. The fact that we question God’s Word exposes how narrow our view of life is. When we align our lives to God through His word, we participate in God’s purposes through His love.