The Purpose of the Refiner’s Fire
I like The Message version of Malachi 3:2-4 that says, “But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance? He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in years long ago.”
God is speaking through his prophet Malachi to the children of Israel, reminding Israel that He loves them. In chapter 3, He uses an illustration of refining silver and gold to give a visual picture to His point. As He speaks of the refiner’s fire, we can easily draw some of God’s key points to Israel from that illustration that are still relevant to us today.
Not long ago I read an article on the refining of silver, and I want to share a few of the points I remember from the article that relates to this scripture.
If the silver is left 20 or 30 seconds too long in the refiner’s fire, it is ruined. You may ask, “Then how do you know it is finished?” When the refiner sees his reflection in the silver he knows it is time to pull the silver out of the fire. Think about this for a moment. What if we are the silver? Doesn’t life, often times, make us feel like we are in the refiner’s fire? Could it be that God is refining us for His divine and perfect purpose for our lives? How are we responding to the heat? How are we reacting to the purification process?
I also learned that after refining, silver has four characteristics:
- It becomes what the refiner intends for it to become.
- It has increased value.
- It reflects the refiner.
- It is cherished by the refiner.
Let’s take a look at some key facts:
- The refiner’s fire is lonely.
Only one piece of silver can be refined at a time. Leaders often times find themselves managing loneliness. Because no one truly knows the pressures you are facing personally, most leaders hold their heads high and keep their personal pain to themselves. However, when we are in the refiner’s fire, it can truly feel overwhelming and lonely.
Others can be sympathetic as long as you are not blessed or prospering more than they are. If you are blessed and are prospering, one can expect less concern from your peers due to jealousy. This should not be so, but Jesus Himself experienced this throughout His ministry. It is lonely in the refiner’s fire.
- The refiner's fire increases intimacy with God.
Some intimacy comes through pain and suffering. Why is this true? It is because we get desperately transparent with God when the fire is hot. When we are at the place when we feel we cannot take one more moment of stress, that’s when God seems so close. His promise is to never leave us or forsake us. He is with us in the heat of the fire. He is with us in the hardest of trials. He will enable and empower us to overcome.
After all these years of faith in God and in leadership, I still find myself wondering what God’s purpose is. When I feel I have learned all of the hard lessons in leadership and in life, it seems I find myself in yet another opportunity to be refined. I must confess that I don’t always appreciate God’s refining fire. It hurts! It is sometimes a slower process than I want, and I get impatient in the process. I pray I am not the only one who feels this way as a leader and follower of Jesus. I want to be more like Him and I want, like never before, to have His presence in my life, but His process often takes me through the refiner’s fire.
- The refiner’s fire has a future purpose.
God has a plan for the silver and sees the end result. He knows exactly when to bring the silver out of the fire. It is when He sees Himself in the reflection of the silver that He knows the silver is ready.
The hotter the fire, the closer you are to the end of the process. You may be tempted to say, “Okay God, take me out early in the process.” The problem is, we usually have to go through the process again. The purification process is often times longer than any of us want to stay.
Silver has to be refined to be used in great places. Remember, the silver will only be used in high places because of the process.
- The silver has the refiner’s complete attention.
When God is silent it means He is at work! Jesus has not forgotten you. He has you in the palm of His hand through the entire process. Be patient, and watch God take you to places you never dreamed. Trust Him in the process.
I’ve often said, “Different level, different devil.” It seems, we each have to deal with different challenges as we merge into different phases of our walk with God. The demons we face seem to be different ones, and sometimes, even more challenging to overcome. I will remind you, you are not alone. He is with you. He has you right where He wants you. It’s up to you how you will respond to the refiner’s fire.
God used Malachi’s voice to speak to Israel about the purification process necessary to please God. Historically, Israel had a habit of an up and down relationship with God. At one time they might be worshipping idols, and at another time they were right with God. God judged them accordingly, but Jesus came and set us free from the law of sin and death.
I thank God for His grace today. Each of us can go boldly to Christ in our time of need. When we are facing trials and are in the refining fire, Jesus is there with us and His grace will see us through. We cannot earn His favor, we cannot be good enough to deserve forgiveness, because we are forgiven! We are free and His grace is sufficient for us all.
When I worked and traveled with David Wilkerson (Brother Dave), he would often times be reading books written by puritan authors; J.B. Stoney, William Gurnall, and others who wrote amazing books on holiness and living pure lives before the Lord. If you read these books, you can often find yourself trying to live a holier life, to be pure, and then struggle with shame for never measuring up to that level of holiness. If you are not careful, you can feel condemned. You can find yourself striving to be a better Christian.
Brother Dave would often discuss the topic of holiness and grace. He would quote the puritan writers and then relate it to America today. He was constantly and consistently trying to live a life of holiness before the Lord.
For many of us raised under holiness preaching, grace is a challenging subject. I was raised in a strict holiness environment where it was difficult to ever feel like you were not in danger of hell’s fire. There were rules for the length of your hair, rules about sports, rules about clothing, etc. It seemed like everything you did or didn’t do would send you to hell.
The point I am making is that it seems holiness is a matter of the heart. Grace is God’s gift to us and we will never be loved more than we are loved today, no matter what we do for Him. He loves us and we have His grace to thank for that. The refiner’s fire is simply the process of enabling us to know Him better and to prepare us for the higher purpose in our lives.
Let me finish today by saying, God loves you. God has you right where He wants you! You are of great value to Him! Rest in His love and let patience have its perfect work as you become a reflection of Him.
Jerry Nance, PhD
Global Teen Challenge