Walking With God Through The Furnace
Malachi 3:2-3 (NLT)
2 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD ."
Job 23:10 (NLT)
10 “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold."
Isaiah 43:2 (NLT)
"When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you."
I remember the first time that my wife and I put Bryson in the water. We rented a beach condo with some friends of ours. He wasn't too keen on the beach and I can understand that. He liked the water rushing over his feet but did not like the feeling of sinking as the waves pulled back the sand from under his feet. Fortunately, the complex we were staying in had a pool and we ended up spending most of our afternoons there. But, to my surprise, he really didn't care for the pool either. He stayed clinging to either myself or his mother. Now, I gave him some grace. He had never really been taught or "required" to swim. So, the next summer we were not really looking forward to going back. However, much to my surprise, Bryson ran and jumped into the pool (with floaties on, of course) even before his mother or myself could get in. And by the end of the week, Bryson was "swimming" around the pool and would not even let us touch him. Since then he has done rather well, even without formal lessons. I say that because I believe there is a fundamental difference between knowing how to swim and having to do when you're in the water. All the "book learning" on the subject of swimming matters nothing until what has been learned is tested.
All the books we could read, and I have read many, on the subject of pain, suffering, grief is of value, but it doesn't matter UNTIL the tests comes. Any educator knows this to be sure. I readily accept that, when it comes to our own "tests" (physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.), there is much in this life that is just not going to make sense. I readily accept that much of what happens in this world is beyond my ability and above my "paygrade." There is much about pain, suffering, sorrow, grief, and how God's sovereignty is connected to it all, that it works in all things harmoniously even with man's choice, but it will remain mysterious to me. I accept that there are going to be some atrocities that I face that are simply present to "refine" me. I have no problem accepting those things. But it's one thing to accept them from outside of the furnace. It is much harder, I think, to find peace and rest in those things when you are standing in the flames, or when you are called to walk through some dark and foreboding valley. And when those times come, I have found no greater source of "book learning" than in God's Word. The Psalmist writes (23:4), "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil...." Why not? "For you are with me."
Psalm 23 is a very picturesque Psalm. Imagine yourself as one of those sheep. You are in line with the rest of them and suddenly you arrive at this dark valley. There's no way around it. There's no way to avoid it. There isn't enough time to stop and make camp and wait for daylight. The only way is through. And because of the timid nature of sheep they are terrified. However, they sense a calmness from the shepherd. Why is that? Because the shepherd, unknown to the sheep, has already walked this path. He knows the way. That's what Job testified to. "He knows where I am going. I don't have a clue. All I can see is the danger. All I can see is the pain. All I can see is the grief over my loss. All I can see is the darkness that lingers over me. But He knows where I am going."
The sheep are still frightened by the valley, but nevertheless, they trust the shepherd. And they know by experience that the shepherd is trustworthy. He has protected them from danger. He has fed them. He has proven his care for the sheep. He has led them to safe pastures before. And, as the song writer says, "He will do it again." I have often thought of those sheep. I am that sheep, still. I am like Job, resigned to saying, "I have no idea where you are leading me. I have no idea why I have been called to walk through this valley, but you know where I am going."
One of the common verbs that is attached to affliction in scripture is that of walking, particularly walking through. I, for one, greatly appreciate that verbiage. I am not a runner. I am not a sprinter. I prefer walking. It may take me longer to reach my destination, but I am ok with that. I do not like how my body feels the next day after a run. I do not like the soreness. I do not like aches and pains. I do not like the stress that running puts on my body. But a walk is something I can do. I'm not sore after a walk. I'm not tired after a walk. The next day my legs, knees, and muscles aren't crying out in anguish. Several years ago I participated in a "Walk to End Alzheimer's" at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol Tennessee. The track is a half mile long and we were talking two miles (four laps). Before we began, my wife and the rest of our group were all together. Just moments before we started, I put in my headphones and turned on some music and by the time we reached the first turn I could no longer see my wife and the rest of my group. In fact, I didn't see them again until we finished. I am pretty sure that I was the last one to finish. When I met back with the group, they were exhausted. A few of them were laying on the pavement while others were sitting. All of them were sweaty and storing up water like camels. But me? I was not sweaty, tired, or thirsty and I felt like I was ready for more.
Why? It certainly was not because I am in such great shape. It was not because my group was in terrible shape. The objective was to finish. That was the goal. There was no prize for finishing first. They weren't handing out medals. You got absolutely nothing for finishing except the satisfaction of finishing. Why then should I exert myself? Why should I make myself feel miserable just for the satisfaction of finishing? The return for finishing well on a "Walk to End Alzheimer's" may have been nothing, but the return for "finishing the race" of faith is everything. And, truthfully, that is really all that matters to me. I just want to finish. And I just want to finish well. I want to know for certainly, unlike my group in Bristol, that the Lord is in fact "with me," that His promise is still true, that He will "never leave me nor abandon me." When I am called to "walk through" I want to know that the Lord is "with me" because if I have the assurance that He is with me, then I am strengthened enough to "walk through" it.
The Israelites probably felt this way as they arrived at the Red Sea. In Exodus 14, the Egyptians are in hot pursuit of the Israelites. Verse 10, "the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them." So here they were, out in the wilderness with a foreboding sea ahead of them and a blood thirsty enemy behind them. The Egyptians have horses and chariots, so there is no outrunning them. The Israelites do not have any weapons at all, so there is no defense for them.
And there's a massive body of water that they can't possibly go around. Naturally they cry out, "Why did you bring us here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?" (v. 11). And perhaps my favorite complaint, "didn't we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt?" A bunch of "I told you so, Moses!" Could God have destroyed the Egyptians before they made chase? Yes. Could God have instantly delivered the Israelites across the Red Sea? Yes. When the disciples were stuck on the Sea of Galilee, they instantly reached their destination when Jesus got into the boat (John 6:21). I would imagine that there were many ways that God could have delivered His people. But God, in His infinite wisdom, created a way through the Red Sea. And when God provides a way through, His people are given the choice to walk the walk of faith. Can you imagine it? It had to take great faith to walk; to see the walls of water and the fish swimming by like the tunnel at Ripley's Aquarium. And perhaps many of them were wondering how long the walls will continue to stand. But nevertheless, they walked it.
Faith is primed, faith is purified, and faith is perfected by walking through the wilderness, the furnace, the flood (Malachi 3:3). When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a very real and terrifying furnace, they resolved to stick with God whether it meant their salvation or their death. "The God we serve is able to deliver us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn't, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up" (Dan. 3:17-18). They were convinced that God could save them, but they had no assurances that He actually would save them. Either way, they were going to walk with God. Could God have saved them then and there? He certainly could have. But they were still thrown in. Why? I think to fulfill the promise of Isaiah 43:2, "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." The three in the furnace became four. Nebuchadnezzar saw three go in and to his surprise he sees "four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed" (Dan. 3:25). God was with them.
It's amazing to see this promise fulfilled for the Israelites at the Red Sea and for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. God was with them. God is with us. God is with you. He knows what it's like to live through the miseries of this world. There is perhaps no one that have been grieved more than God. God walks with His people in the fire, but the question is will we walk with Him? Will we walk at His pace? Far too often I have tried to go at my pace and rush through. But like Job, I do not know where I am going. And what I have learned through this mess of the last few years is that I still do not have a clue where He is leading. But He knows the way. And His pace is often slow and steady. There is nothing dramatic about a walk. Walking with God is the daily exercise of obedience, of talking with God, reading His Word, worshipping and fellowship with other believers who are walking the same path because we need someone to walk with us. To walk at God's pace means that we may not experience some kind of instant deliverance from the plaguing questions, the sorrow, and the fear. But there will be progress. There at the very least will be movement forward. And that is what I must do - move forward. The goal is to finish. And I want to finish. I have the promise that He is with me. So, I walk. At times I crawl. You can't rush God. But at least there is progress.
"He knows where I am going." And I trust that together, we will get there.
He will get me there.
Trust Him. He will get you there, too!
"All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate'er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well."
(Crosby, "All The Way My Savior Leads Me," pub. 1875)
The scriptures used are taken from the New Living Translation
This article is an adaptation from a previous Bible Study (10/24/2021)